In advance of his special lecture at the Aquarium on April 22nd (Earth Day), we chatted with world-renowned marine photographer/filmmaker and dedicated environmentalist Bob Talbot about what inspires his work and how he uses the power of film to advocate for our blue planet!
How did you first become interested in photography?
I began snorkeling when I was eight years old. When I was thirteen I became a certified diver. The following Christmas I was given my first camera. I enrolled in an after-school photo class and soon realized that photography was the perfect medium for me to share what I was experiencing in the sea with others.
How did you start in underwater photography/filmmaking?
Soon after I began diving I met a fellow student that who had also just begun diving. Inspired by Jacques Cousteau, we photographed whatever we could in the waters off the coast of southern California. When we were fourteen, we acquired a sixteen-foot inflatable boat that opened up a whole new world to us. We now had access to the whales and dolphins that eventually became the main focus of my work.
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When we were nineteen, I got my hands on a wind up 16mm movie camera. With no idea precisely where we were going, we loaded up a Datsun pickup and "trailered" the inflatable to Vancouver Island in hopes of filming orcas in the wild.
That trip was the first of several to the Pacific Northwest to photograph orcas. It was a fool’s undertaking, fueled only by youthful enthusiasm and the passion to get an image on film. Those early days of trial-and-error honed the skills I use today. There was no formal training to become a marine wildlife photographer—an odd combination of photographer, naturalist, boatman and filmmaker.
The sea was our playground, our classroom. And it taught us as much about how to learn as it did anything else.
What inspires your passion for ocean conservation?
I’ve been drawn to the sea since I was a child. Long before I understood its importance to life on this planet, the ocean was a source of comfort and inspiration. Its inhabitants never cease to amaze me—it’s liquid form an ever changing piece of art to be shared with the world. So I suppose on one hand my passion for ocean conservation is purely selfish. Though much more important is how critical the sea is to the survival of all living things.
There is a part of me that has come to the intellectual realization that what we have done to the sea is a natural progression of evolution. But in my heart I can’t accept this. We know of no other planet where life now exists. I simply can’t stand by and watch the destruction of such a unique and vital place.
How do you hope to inspire conservation in others?
I hope to inspire people with immersive film experiences that provide context and perspective through compelling stories. Old school conservation has become passé. I feel that we have reached a point in time when the environmental movement needs to reinvent itself.
I believe the way to move forward is to present issues in a clear and non-judgmental fashion, while providing logical and effective action to bring about meaningful change.
What do you love most about the natural world?
Purity and truth.
If you could only capture one animal for the rest of your life, what would it be? Why?
Orcas. They are the animals with whom I came of age both in my life and in my work.
Their power, intelligence, grace and form continue to inspire me.
Join us for Bob Talbot's Upcoming Lecture!
What: "The Power of Film: Inspiring Action for Monterey Bay"
When: April 22nd, 7pm EST
Where: National Aquarium and a livestream online via Google Hangout!
For more information of our Marjorie Lynn Bank lecture series, visit aqua.org/lectures!