By Foued Kaddachi.
October 1982, Mr Lambs, my History-Geography teacher, is standing in front of the Black board with the word “Photography” written on in. I’m thirteen years old and it’s my first lesson of the “Photographer’s Club” at the Molière High school of Colmar in Alsace, France.
He asked: “what does this word mean?”
The class replied frantically: “taking photos, cameras, portraits, photo prints, black and white, darkrooms!!!”
No! he replied; it’s more simple: photo means light and graphic, meaning drawing or writing with light.
None of us thought about that!
After an hour of introduction, he concluded his class by calling the handful of young enthusiastic students to the big windows of our classroom.
He said: “Now you can all see this big bright light in the sky? This created the planet and every life on it; your mothers included, who created you, so if you can’t draw or write with it…you have nothing to do in my class!”
Mr. Lambs was a very enthusiastic teacher, with the nice beard that goes well with the word Travel.
Patiently he taught us the art of chasing the light and playing with the frames.
I was hooked; I have followed photography studies, and have been chasing the light and playing the Game of frames since.
So when Mark called me last year and told me his vision to help local communities to protect the “pristine” environment they call home, by creating “No Take Zone” aka Marine Protected Areas, and give back to the same ocean that gave him a life, a great family and so much, I was in!
He invited me to “shoot whatever you want as long as you can contribute and show what we are talking about, you in mate” were his words.
“Merçi mon ami” i replied, slowly digesting the sudden rush of adrenaline in my chest, because the “Chase of light” is on, I have an assignment!
I’ve been diving intensively and professionally since 1999, so I feel at home underwater. You will agree with me, when I say “It feels good at home on your own”.
My best buddy, for the last decade, is my camera a full frame Nikon D700 in a Hugyfot housing, only.
I never forgot Mr. Lambs words, “if I see you it is because the sun light is reflecting on you, the tree behind, the vineyards on the horizon and the composition that can be, if you can “see” what can be drawn with the big bright light in the sky, and lastly, wipe your frame, before you press your finger.”
Last November, on the morning dive Alex wanted to check a recommended GPS point, on the east coast of the volcanic island of Manuk, 65NM South-East from Ambon, in the Banda Sea about an hour after sunrise.
The sun still low enough to give the last golden tone just before the light is bright in the shallows.
I’m following a Banded Sea snake reaching out for air, suddenly I see his silhouette shape matching the surface patterns.
So the Chase is on again.
As the snake rises to the surface, almost positively buoyant the last meter, it blended together.
The light was “right”!
On the 10th of November, at Magic Corner, on Serua island 200NM South of Banda Neira. The third dive of the day.
After two weeks of intensive diving, at night you start to dream of chasing the light.
I’m drifting too deep, too long, too late, and about ascent-shallow to surface, when these magnificent creatures came closer to have a look, so the Chase is on. The next five minutes I’m swimming with them; an eye in the viewfinder and the other above, trying to get the best of light and frame at that depth with that speed.
The light was low but still right for this Dive of a Lifetime.
The Sea in French is feminine. She taught me a memorable lesson, on that particular day during this unforgettable Epic 1.
The same day the Serua community signed an agreement with Peter Mous (TNC) and Rili Rohani (CTC) to create a Marine Protected Area and Mark’s dream was starting to take shape. That was in November 2020.
This year on the 13th April 2021, according to the agreement, TNC delivered some equipment for patrolling, monitoring and recording data around the MPA.
On the 29th April 2021 the Indonesian Navy, with the help of the Serua village patrol, arrested a 25GT motor boat from Sulawesi, with a large stock of handmade explosives, detonators and one and a half tonnes of fusiliers in ice for cargo.
Another proof, that someone’s initiative can help many, Mark’s dream is definitely taking shape.
6th April 2021 was a rainy day in Namatota near Triton Bay, so we visited an important harbor for fishery industries of the Eastern part of Indonesia, with Hilda Lionata, Indonesia Oceans Program Manager for YKAN (definition) and Helmi Wurlianty, Fisheries research assistant for the people and Nature Consulting International (PNCI).
Finally, the sun was high enough to shine behind the clouds, and a shiver of whale shark were under the Bagan; this is an oversized catamaran using nets for light fishing little fishes, squids and shrimps.
As I immersed one of the biggest fish of the ocean, probably by curiosity, came straight to welcome me at their feeding ground, as he passed me, I had a glimpse of the nineteenth letter of the alphabet, S. Chasing them one after another as they dive deeper with a mouthful of tiny fish. I spend an hour in the shallows with these gentle giants, who hardly noticed my presence except to push me out of their way; to finally catch the first letter of the words Sea and SevenSea.
The light was bad, but still right for this frame.
What a beautiful rainy day!
Approaching the end of the Epic 2, on the 25th April a wall dive, in Batuata located in South-East Sulawesi, part of Indonesia where unfortunately, dynamite fishing can be heard during the dives.
But fortunately the explosives don’t reach the deeper reefs, which are still vibrant with life, pushed by a mild current I’m drifting reef left about 20m.
After a few days of Wall dives, I feel like the deep blue ocean is taping on my right shoulder, suddenly out of the blue, this fever of Eagle Rays confident in numbers, fly closer by to have a look at me.
As I hold my breath, like I always do when marine life is close to me, they turn around for a second closer look in the eye, before diving deep. Four minutes later a single slower eagle ray came along the wall, gliding side by side with a resident green turtle…
The light was “write” again, about this unforgettable deep blue dive.
April the 5th, South-East of Raja Ampat, Momon sea mount is known to have oceanic manta, coming for spa, occasionally when the tide is right.
So, it was at the cleaning station about 20m deep, that Alex and I were fortunate to meet Madame Birostris, as the word ray in French is feminine.
It’s mid-day, the brightest light, that burns so easily the eyes, and rush hours on the reef cleaning stations.
Leaving the dive site for the nearby Momon waterfalls we cruise past a big rock island colonized by fruit bats, that have the same graceful wing movement as the rays.
Often people ask me about my best dive, and for many years my answer is “the next dive” this incredible voyage was the perfect illustration, after more than twenty years underwater I’m often blown away by the light reflecting on the marine biodiversity the Indonesian oceans hold. And above the incredible rainbow of humans this nation shines with.
These Epic trips were like one of this great movies you will never forget, with:
Many photographic legends passed away, but talented contemporary from Philadelphia, Steve McCurry once said:
“My Life is shaped by the urgent need to wander and observe, and my camera is my passport.”
That was the conclusion for this Blog before our friend Tommy and contributor to this Epic (his word) trip, just passed away…
Not knowing how to finish without a thought and a word for Tommy.
But McCurry’s quote is the perfect tribute to Tommy…