Category Archives: This World

No Seconds

Henry Hargreaves is a photographer originating from New Zealand. He makes his living capturing the weird, wonderful and sometimes bizarre ideas spilling from his curious mind. My favourite work of his is ‘No Seconds’, a still life series in which he recreates the last suppers of inmates on death row, giving an interesting window into their minds. Have a look at some of his other intriguing collections such as, ‘Deep Fried Gadgets’ here.

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No Secondsposted on by Bradley Cook in Brainfood, Food & Drink, Photo, This World


Dancing Seadragons

The courtship dance of the Weedy Sea dragon in South Australia is one of the most exquisite things I have ever seen. In the evening the courting pair start to mirror each other in a waltz that can last hours, only broken by the male dropping his head in a bow and rising up into the females midriff. In darkness he takes her eggs onto his swollen tail where they embed. Words cannot describe the deep sense of connection one feels with the ocean when witnessing such ephemeral beauty.

Wildlife filmmaking is an environmental contradiction. At it’s simplest the acquisition period of a wildlife film – or series of films – uses hundreds of tons of fossil fuels to put men and women with cameras near to animals. The animals do not benefit from our presence and, it could be argued, the local and global environment suffers too. And yet culturally the work of wildlife cameramen and women recording the natural world is, in general, regarded as important and worthwhile. Why should that be so?

I think the answer lies in artificial memory and the importance we, the human animal, subconsciously put into it.

It is become very clear to me through my work we are not the only animals with the capacity for “spoken” language. You only need to put your head underwater in Western Australia and listen to Humpback whales singing to each other, or wake early in England to hear the dawn chorus, to know that language and communication are important parts of many animals’ lives. The difference between the human animal and other animals is the distillation of this communication into writing. It is this that has given us the ability to share experience across generations.

Interestingly, early writing often preserved strong links to the natural world – the pictographs Sumerian, Egyptian, and Chinese civilizations are, in my view, as beautiful and metaphoric as any wildlife painting or photograph of today.

It seems like with the development of phonic writing that connection with the animals we shared our world with was, at least to some degree, lost. It is really tough to write well about the natural world. Phonic writing is great for telling anthropocentric stories and passing ideas (and of course information) about the state of the human mind but good writing about the natural world is rare and very often so loaded with metaphor and anthropomorphism that the meaning is either lost or the text becomes unreadable. It is no accident that the popular tomes on wildlife tend to be picture books – mostly of the glossy coffee table variety.

It is this creation of artificial memory of the natural world is, at least in part, what we photographers in my industry do. The moving wildlife images we produce contribute to a visual history of a world that, if we are careful, can be preserved when no memory of the actual world remains. In the same way as the IIiad, passed down through countless generations in song, allows us a vision of a archaic civilization I believe, or at least pray, the work film makers, photographers, writers and artists do in our time will sustain a record of how things were for generations to come. My hope is, in the process of creating this record we humans learn find intrinsic worth in the world we are responding to and recording…and perhaps even learn to keep a little of it along the way.

Dancing Seadragonsposted on by Doug Anderson in Art, Film, Nature, Photo, The Road, This World


Below Freezing

When Antarctica got cold all the coastal marine animals died out and creatures from the deep ocean colonized the shallow water. In places Sponges tattoo the slopes, some of the biggest may be over a thousand years old. Massive Spider crabs and other weird creatures pick their way across the seabed. Urchins and beautiful Red star fish live out their lives in slow motion. The alien sound of Weddell seals add a soundtrack to everything you see. One feels like a child in this landscape. Every moment underwater there is new, ephemeral and profoundly beautiful in a way you cannot think possible on this planet.

Sponges Pano

In mid October 2009 my camera then camera assistant Hugh Miller and I were about 6 weeks into a 10 week trip to Ross Island in the Antarctic for the BBC series “Frozen Planet”. At that moment our life’s revolved around diving down through a 3 foot wide hole in the 8 foot thick sea-ice to inhabit a super cold, super clear underwater playground for as long as our body’s could take it. The water around Ross Island is the coldest and clearest surface water on the planet. 500 meter visibility and -1.86 degrees Celsius. It is so cold ice forms on the seabed between a depth of 30 feet and the surface. This “Anchor” ice coats the seabed like a carpet.

Granit harbour

On the evening of the 15th October 2010 Hugh Miller was the happiest little cameraman in Antarctica. Hugh has been moonlighting – if such a thing is possible in 24 hour daylight. By day he has been doing the underwater lighting for me and by night he has been finishing the build on his latest underwater time-lapse rig. Simply, it was a couple of digital cameras, in underwater housings, that take pictures every few seconds – when you play back the pictures the whole scene is sped up hundreds of times. He finished it 3 days ago and that day he captured in time-lapse a “Brinicle” growing.

Hugh's Rig

6 weeks ago I’d never heard of a Brinicle either. So here is the science bit. They look like giant underwater icicles and hang from underneath the sea-ice. They can be as big as a foot wide and 30 feet long. They grow because when the sea-ice gets cold and freezes a very salty brine is also formed which does not freeze – don’t ask why, I did at the time and regretted it. The Brine is heavier than sea water so starts to flow down through the pores and cracks in the sea-ice. In places it flows out so thick you can see it like a sort of underwater haze. Because the Brine is colder than the water it starts to freeze it. When conditions are right this freezing starts forming a tube. The Brine flows through the center of the tube and freezes water as it flows out the end. And that is how a Brinicle forms.

Under the Sea-ice on the shores of Ross Island in the Antarctic there are lots of little Brinicles growing all over the place, and a few big dead ones, but we didn’t find a large one in the process of growing until about a week previous. It was 8 feet long with brine pouring out of it. Hugh used our 200 Watt HMI to light it and I filmed it and then came back to the dive hut to warm up. We went back in about 2 hours later. It had grown by 2 foot, hit the seabed and then formed a river of ice about a foot wide running 25feet down the slope. It was carnage. Urchins and starfish had been frozen into the ice river. Some were still alive but most had already snuffed it. It was amazing and we got good coverage. That evening we dared to talk of another that we could cover with the Time-lapse gear – not yet, at that time, completely built yet.

A week later, in almost exactly the same spot, we found another. It was the first time that Hugh’s time-lapse rig had ever been in sea water. The Brinicle we found was about 3 feet from the seabed and flowing really well. Hugh and I swam the cameras and lights across. Hugh pressed go. We came back 3 hours later. It had done the same as the first – hit the sea bed and made an Ice river down the slope. Hugh reset the cameras and pressed go again. We went in late and dragged the cameras out. That evening Hugh rendered the image sequence into short films. They were rough still but the results are amazing. I remember thinking it looked like a witches spell. A dangerous finger of growing ice extending down and capturing the poor little urchins and starfish in an icy web. Some made it away just in time but most are frozen in. It is one of the wildest weirdest most beautiful things I have ever seen rendered to an image from the natural world.

Below Freezingposted on by Doug Anderson in Art, Brainfood, Film, Nature, Photo, Snow, The Road, This World


Please preserve end.

The Arri HSR2 Super 16 film cameras make a beautiful noise. They whirr like a really fast, super smooth, sowing machines. And actually they sort of are sowing machines. Film cameras have little claws that pull down each frame of film and expose it (in the gate) before pulling down the next one. Normally this happens 25 times a second. If we are shooting high speed, for slow motion, the film cameras we commonly use can pull down and expose up to 150 little pictures a second. Once a roll of film is finished it is put in a lightproof can and sent to get developed – just like a roll of film out of a stills camera. Once it’s developed, the last stage is to pass it through a machine called a Telecini. The Telecini turns the film into video that can be edited on a computer.

Everyone in TV has a big break story. This is mine.

I got a job as an assistant on the BBC’s wildlife landmark series “The Blue Planet”. I was mainly assisting open ocean specialist Rick Rosenthal. In November 1999 Rick, myself, cameraman David Reichert and producer Andy Byatt found ourselves working off the Pacific side of Mexico. After 4 years of filming it was the last trip of the series. Our main target was Striped Marlin feeding on bait balls. We did very well. We had a month and by the end of week three we had some beautiful material of the Marlin feeding aggressively on big bait balls. In the best traditions of these sorts of stories, it was the last days’ filming not only of the trip but of the entire Blue Planet series. For several days Rick had me using his film camera housing in the water whilst he covered topside action from the bow of the boat. I had already had some great experiences with the Marlin when David and I jumped on a small bait ball that was being decimated by 10-20lb Yellowfin tuna. We were working the scene pretty close together when suddenly the tuna left the bait ball and went down deep. I sensed David move fast behind me, spun round, and rolled the camera as a 45 foot, 15 ton Sei Whale passed within six feet of us. It had seen the bait ball and wanted in on the action. The next 15 minutes were the most intense of my life. The whale came into feed 8 times. She seemed to be trying for surface lunges mainly. Swimming shallow and fast at the bait-ball and, when she got close enough, engulfing as much of the bait ball as she could. I was pretty pumped up by the action. A couple of times I got perfectly underneath her and got really close.

After seven passes I looked at the film counter. It said I had ten feet left. The counters on the old Arri HSR2 cameras are pretty inaccurate but I guessed I had about 15-20 seconds of film time left. I ducked and dived down to about 20 feet below the bait ball and waited. Within 30 seconds I spotted the whale again. But this time it was different. She was deep, perhaps 150 feet below me, and swimming straight towards the surface. She was going so fast for a moment it looked like she was going to do a breach. I started rolling the camera – click whirrrrrrrrrr – I could hear the film running through. She kept coming straight up and fast, passing me about 12 feet away.

Then I heard it. Whirrrrrrrrrrclick,click,click,click. The sound of the end of the film coming off the core of the spool and loosly running throug the gate of the camera. At the last second the whale opened it’s mouth and engulfed what it could of the bait ball. It then fell away from me and with a single kick, left frame. My lungs burned. I kicked to the surface to breathe. I looked at the camera. It was out of film that was for sure. But when?

Back on board I told producer Andy I thought we had some petty nice stuff but was not sure about the last shot. To make it worse David had filmed me filming the last lunge by the whale. So everybody knew it had happened. Question was, did I record it on film? I put the exposed film in a can for processing back in England. All over the can I wrote “PLEASE PRESERVE THE END”. When a roll is film is processed and prepared for a telecini the lab technicians stick a plastic leader on the end of the exposed film. Usually the last foot or so of the film is lost with this process. By writing “preseve the end” on the film can I was asking then to stick the leader on as little of the exposed film as possible. I had a feeling every frame was going to count.

About 3 weeks after getting back from the trip, the film was processed and ready for the telecini. I was at home in Bristol so I went to see the material going through. My whale roll, because it was the last roll exposed on the trip, was the last to go though. The first 7 passing shots went through. I was really excited. Some of them were super close and really impressive. Then the last lunge came up. My heart was pounding. The whale came up through frame, opened it’s pleats, engulfed the shoal, fell away from me, beat it’s tail, the tail left frame…..and then black. I was stunned for a moment and then went absolutely nuts. It was like scoring a goal in the FA cup final. I hugged the Telicini operator and then knocked over the mints as I leapt onto the sofa screaming and punching the air. People from the sound room next door even came in to see if anything was wrong. Happy does not even begin to describe it. I wanted to see the end of the film. The telecine operator took the film of the machine and we had a look. From the frame the tail of the whale left frame to the end of the film there was 12 empty frames. 12 frames. About 3 inches of film. The lab technician had glued the leader onto the last few milimeters of the roll.

Blue Planet – Open Ocean – Diary from Sequence Videos on Vimeo.

Please preserve end.posted on by Doug Anderson in Film, Nature, Photo, This World


A Family that Slays Together Stays Together.

It is a strange feeling filming, and so knowing the truth, of a wildlife behaviour for the first time. There is of course the delight of the achievement – the pleasure of solving the puzzle. But, perhaps on a more romantic level, there is sadness associated with demystifying another behavior. Somehow the ocean feels smaller after it is done.

There is a movement, mostly in the US, to call Killer Whales “Orca”. Too many negative connotations of the word “Killer”. The assumption is the probably false belief that the word will be bad for “conservation”.

There are 4 “Types” of “Orca” whales in the Antarctic. They are called Type A,B,C and D. Each Type looks quite different to the next and they all seem to live in very different ways. A’s look like your classic black and white Killer whale. We find them mainly offshore (away from land and ice) and they seem to kill baleen whales – probably mostly Antarctic Minke whales. Type B’s are the pack ice whales. They are brown and white with a big eye patch and are heavily associated with the sea – ice. They seem to kill mainly seals (sometimes by “wave-washing”). Type C’s are small fish eating Killer whales only found in the Ross-sea. Type D’s are rarely seen. They live well offshore and have a tiny eye patch (it’s almost gone) and probably feed on fish too.

Type B Killer Whales© John Durban

Killer Whales © John Durban

In the austral summer of 2008 we were interested in Type B’s – the pack ice whales. Over the course of about 100 years they had been observed, as far as we could make out, about 6 times using waves generated by swimming in unison fast, to wash seals of ice flows. The first time was by Pointing who was Captain Scott’s photographer in 1910. The last was by a couple on holiday on a cruise ship, who filmed an unsuccessful attempt at a seal in 2006, and stuck the clip on Youtube.

Pod Type B Killer Whales © John Durban

Pod Type B Killer Whales © John Durban

Not much to go on but enough for the BBC natural history unit to send me and cameraman Doug Allan to try for it for the BBC wildlife series “Life” in January 2008. It didn’t turn out so good. I broke my back in a fall from the mast on the boat half way through the trip and had to be evacuated to the Falkland Islands. The crew carried on but failed to see the behavior.

Seemingly undaunted by the obvious hubris of the decision, the next BBC wildlife series “Frozen Planet” sent Doug and I back in Jan 2009. This time we worked with a team of scientists from NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) in the States. These guys had tiny satellite tags, which meant that if we could get one in a whale we could track them effectively using coordinates texted to our satellite phone. It made the difference. We found the type B’s early and got a tag in. Over a month we spent 75 hours running through the pack ice with the type B’s. We tracked them onto 22 wave-washing attacks on Weddle seals – 16 of them were successful. There efficiency was remarkable. We even watched them doing what can only be described as butchering their prey. They exposed the end of the spine of the seal, broke the neck the flippers and pulled the body from the skin. A couple of times we found seal “suit’s” floating on the surface.

"Buchered" Weddle Seal Skin © Doug Anderson

“Butchered” Weddle Seal Suit © Doug Anderson

It was the most extraordinary experience of my professional life. An apex predator catching and dispatching prey in a completely new way – it’s an event that will happen once or twice in the career of a wildlife cameraman, if they are lucky.

Orca?….I’m not so sure. For me this family is “Killers” and should be celebrated as such.

A Family that Slays Together Stays Together.posted on by Doug Anderson in Nature, Photo, Surfing, This World


Dane Reynolds

Dane Reynolds has Science Fiction type surfing skills. He is a difficult surfer to pin down – perhaps he is a neo-goth-hippy-no-wave-anarchist-beatnik…..perhaps not. He quit the ASP world tour in 2011 and created such a stink that he eventually wrote an open letter which he called “A declaration of independence”. It was a beautifully written treatise on the right of an individual, no matter how talented, to walk a road less traveled. A road without defined signposts of progress. He was condemned, by some, on a very basal level, for what was perceived as idleness. I’m sure I was not the only one who noticed the incredible contradiction of this, in a surf culture founded on a general idea that work was some sort of indignity.

The power of his position after rejection of the tour is fascinating. By rejecting progress – in his case to the next event win or world title – he immediately became timeless. I think, though of course I can’t be sure, that is the attraction. Each video he posts is on it’s own, a mindful moment in a life, not connected or part of an endless progression of achievement. It is important, if that is the right word, for what it is, not what someday it might become.

Excerpt: Dane Reynolds from CI Surfboards on Vimeo

Dane Reynoldsposted on by Doug Anderson in Brainfood, Surfing, This World


Flying Fish

I like filming in the open ocean because, in the main, there is very little room for manipulation. It seems the natural condition for the human animal is strategy and management – we are desperate to live in a certain world of our own making. There is no room for such pervasive ideas of stability trying to film in mostly empty lapis blue water miles deep far from shore. Though of course, whilst trying to film animals like Marlin or Sailfish, the ocean does give clues to location and timing of filmable events, mostly the success or failure of a wildlife shoot comes down to a heady brew of time in the field and luck. Perhaps a 10-minute moment with our subject in a month at sea and it is done. For a boy from Scotland brought up with Calvinist ideals of salvation through constant labour it is a strange conflict to know that at the most important moments of my professional working life I have simply been an observer of something that would have happened whether I was there or not. These moments have certainly been a cure for my inherent solipsism if nothing else.

In the open ocean it is the Flying Fish  that captures my imagination most completely. Bound by neither water nor air when they fly they suspend reality. As you track them with your eye it’s almost impossible not to hold your breath. We found them spawning on palm fronds near Tobago a few years back and shot this sequence. One night the fishermen that took us out put us in such a good spot we had to move. There were so many fish they started spawning on the rudder and propeller of the boat. They stuck on a 400 pound egg mass in just 20 minutes. Had we not moved they would have sunk us.  I loved it. For a moment the ocean accepted us. We became part of a system of birth, life and death that has cycled in the deep blue for millions of years.  And for once it was us, rather than our subjects, that broke the connection. If we hadn’t the ocean would have claimed us too.

Flying Fishposted on by Doug Anderson in Nature, Photo, This World


Art and Amulets

I spend my working life watching and filming the natural world – mostly underwater or on it. My job is to turn these experiences into pieces of film that eventually, mostly by other people, are condensed into wildlife television programmes. Perhaps unsurprisingly it occurs to me that there is a “nature” to our species that has always done this.  From the first “Caveman” etching an image on a Paleolithic wall, to the digital photograph posted on Facebook, the need to represent the natural world is distinctively human. Though it would make every anthropocentric postmodernist turn in their grave I do believe we are animals sniffing our way through an often unpredictable and uncertain world. I don’t really know why we are seemingly programmed to represent our natural world, and actually I don’t really need to know. What I do know is I am most attracted to “art” created through continual observation. Most often this work is found in cultures that still have a significant tie with the land or sea.

A couple of years ago I found myself in the Inuit community of Igoolik in the Canadian Arctic. We were filming Bowhead whales. Igoolik means “there is a house there” in Inuktitut because of the old sod houses out on the point. These are summerhouses that for several thousand years were used by the Intuit when the sea ice had melted. We were camping near by and in the evening, after a days filming, our Inuit guides would go up to the huts and conduct there own little amateur archeological digs. Often they would find stuff in the peat around the houses. One day one of the guides found an amulet (little good luck figurines worn on a string round the neck). It was a representation of a Loon – kind of a large water bird – we have similar in the UK called “Great Northern Divers”.  It was one of the most beautiful pieces of art I had ever seen. The representation of the bird, it’s spirit, distilled into a pure abstract form carved from a single walrus tooth. In this tiny object I saw the continued observation of generations of intuit living, watching, seeing and interpreting the land.

Carved Whale Amulet

Fig. Loon Amulet

That evening Louise – our Inuit cook – told me a story.  It was about a boy that lived in Igoolik long ago. He was about 3 years old when his father died out on the sea-ice. His mother became very protective of him and started making amulets. Each day she put a new one on him when he went out to play.  Soon he was covered in so many amulets he could hardly walk. He became known as “the boy with too many amulets”. On the last evening of our trip our guide Simon gave me an amulet for my boy Finn who was also 3. It was a polar bear head carved out of a walrus tooth. As I was leaving Louise said to me “now Finn can be the boy with just the right amount of amulets”.

Finn Amulet 3

Fig. Finn’s Bear Amulet

Art and Amuletsposted on by Doug Anderson in Art, Nature, Photo, The Road, This World


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Don’t you love it when you’re just willfully procrastinating and then you happen upon a site that’ll provide absorbing bedtime reading for the next month? This happened last night when I came across Yonder Journal…

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Separated into the comprehensive Reports, shorter but informative Briefs, and fully downloadable/usable Guides, this is the site for the backwoods-trekking North America fan who wants to learn of nourishing highlights from others, before or after they set off themselves. Or, if you’re locked down in another country with little spare cash and no holiday time left (grumble), it’s a place to get mentally lost in, gazing off sunny mountain-top lookouts from someone elses eyes.

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I love the simple, dispatch format – it lends itself to the philosophical nature of the site - it’s the places and the people’s experiences within them that fills most of the content, and it’s all the richer for the fact that it’s such a good range of contributors (or ‘animals’, as they’re known at YJ). It is also, at many times, splutter-into-your-cup-of-tea funny.

I asked one of the founders of the site, Argentinian-born Emiliano Granado, what Yonder Journal is all about… “The ‘editorial mission’ is to educate, inspire and entertain. Every piece of writing or photograph needs to illuminate – it’s not good enough just to be aesthetically pleasing. So many “outdoor” and “curated culture” publications simply show you something pretty. That’s not enough for us. Yj aspires to something greater. Something pseudo-academic, anthropological. We might fail, but at least we tried!” 

It’s a laudable celebration of nature and those who get out amongst it; transcendental at times and humbled at others. And whether I cogitate, emulate or continue to procrastinate – I’m hooked on it.

Yonder Journal
Web | Instagram

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Yonder Journalposted on by Cai Waggett in Brainfood, Nature, Photo, The Road, This World


Adventures in the California backwoods. I recently returned from one, and now I want another. Above is Vimeo staff member Ian Durkin having one of his own. Interesting chap too. See more of him via here: iandurkin.com

Gone Tomorrowposted on by Cai Waggett in Film, This World