Travel and world photographer David duChemin has a life most people would be jealous of. Always on the road, grasping adventure by its sleeve and exploring many different places not only above but also under water!
« THE LIGHT IS DIFFERENT, THE GEAR IS DIFFERENT, AND THE CONSTRAINTS WITH WHICH YOU MUST WORK ARE VERY DIFFERENT. MOST OF MY TIME UNDERWATER IS LIMITED TO 60 MINUTES. THE SCIENCE BEHIND DIVING ALSO LIMITS MY DEPTH DURING THAT TIME, SO IT’S NOT AS SIMPLE AS THROWING A SCUBA TANK ON MY BACK AND SWIMMING AROUND. MY CAMERA, HOUSINGS, AND STROBES CAN WEIGH AROUND 30LBS, SO WHILE THEY BECOME ALMOST NEUTRALLY BUOYANT IN THE WATER THEY’RE STILL CUMBERSOME AND SLOW. ADD TO ALL THIS THE NEED TO REMAIN OBSERVANT, NOT RUN OUT OF AIR, AND NOT GET POKED, STUNG, OR BITTEN BY SOMETHING, AND IT’S A LOT TO DEAL WITH WHILE TRYING TO DO THE WORK OF MAKING PHOTOGRAPHS - BEING OBSERVANT, TAKING YOUR TIME, CATCHING THE MOMENT. BUT I THINK I THRIVE ON THE CHALLENGE AND EVEN WHEN NOTHING IS GOING RIGHT CREATIVELY, BEING UNDERWATER, ESPECIALLY IN THE PRESENCE OF SUCH WONDERFUL CREATURES, IS ALWAYS A MIRACLE. »
Other than that, he also has a very inspiring YouTube channel you definitely have to check out and a collection of books he has written to guide you through the language of vision where he believes that it's all about the photographer if a picture gives you the chills rather than the equipment ...
This is very different from your previous work, most of which deals with people, what drove this change?
A couple things. The first was just the need for a break and so much of what I used to do to take those breaks is no longer available to me. In 2011 I had a serious accident while photographing in Italy and I shattered both my feet. So my mobility is much more limited than it once was. Diving was a way to do something adventurous and physical without dealing being limited by my mobility challenges. But more than that, after a decade of doing humanitarian work I began to see an undeniable connection between the fate of humanity and the way we treat this planet. So I wanted to explore that. We protect what we love and understand and photography is one way, one voice, toward encouraging that love and understanding.
Do you prefer black and white or color photographs, and why?
I love both and am a huge fan of colorists like Saul Leiter, Alex Webb, or Constantine Manos, but there’s something elegant and mysterious about black and white. My first serious photographic efforts were black and white when I was a kid and I suppose there's a certain nostalgia in it for me. But I also love how black and white forces the reader to fill in the stories themselves, it requires imagination and participation to interpret black and white in a way that’s less common with color. So unless color is part of the story, which it often is not underwater because the full spectrum of light, and therefore the color, vanishes quickly as you get deeper.
How did you maintain your coolness swimming next to sharks? Weren't you intimidated?
It’s mostly about understanding. We fear what we do not understand and the usual nonsense about sharks being fierce man-eaters is mostly just that: nonsense. You need to respect every creature for what it is, and sharks generally speaking have absolutely no predator/prey relationship with humans. In fact, as you dive with sharks and see how many fish they do not eat, fish that don’t seem to even notice the sharks, you realize they’re quite specific. Sharks are an apex predator and they are necessary and we are much more dangerous to them than they are to us. I’m strongly opposed to activities that threaten global shark populations, activities like shark-finning. We need sharks. Having said that, you still treat them with respect. Some shark species are more likely to be a threat than others, but even the much-villainized Great White shark is far less interested in killing us than we are in eradicating them. I want people to see them for more than just what they learned as a kid watching scary shark movies.
You travel a lot, what is the one thing you couldn’t live without?
If I have an iPhone, a passport, and a credit card, I’m pretty much good. But if I could have my camera, I’d be better. I also don’t travel alone very well. I like to photograph alone but not to be alone 24/7. So if I could have a traveling companion, my wife, or my producer/assistant, I’d be really happy. But that’s 5 things. I was never good at following the rules.
When did you discover your interest in photography?
My father was an avid photographer, so I’ve always been around cameras. I had little point and shoot cameras since I was about 10 years old or so, but when I was 14 I picked up a 35mm rangefinder at a neighbor’s yard sale and I was hooked. Two years later my mother got me a used Pentax Spotmatic and I never looked back. I spent much of my teen years in the darkroom in our home, dreaming of traveling the world with my cameras. I never in a million years it would turn out like this.
What advice would you give to beginners?
Learn your craft, learn the visual language, and then move on. Find something to say, discover your own way of doing this. Photography is a young art and there are no rules, but it’s powerful and what the world does not need is more perfectly exposed perfectly focused, and perfectly forgettable images. We have billions upon billions of photographs. So, find something important to explore and express and do that. Be really suspicious of any claim that a piece of gear will make your photographs better. Save the money and spend it on travel or telling your stories. Fall in love with photographs and stories, and the way they can move us to action, or to empathy, fall in love with those things, not with cameras.
What was the best thing you’ve ever experienced during a photoshoot/trip?
Two years ago I was diving in the Revillagigedo Archipelago, about 300 miles off the coast of Mexico when a pod of dolphins swam up to me at a depth of about 60ft and for 45 minutes they played and danced and initiated this incredible encounter with me and the divers I was with. It was incredibly intimate and is just one of the experiences I’ve had underwater that has given me a glimpse of what things could be like if we lived in greater harmony with the world around us. We have taken a very adversarial position to this world - we kill, we eat, we exploit - and that position is truly impoverishing us as a species. Ultimately it threatens our very existence. So moments in which I can look a dolphin, a giant manta, or a humpback whale, in the eye, and feel that connection, are very rare but they give me hope. They remind me of my place in this world.