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Whales in close-up

UNDERWATER photographer Charles “Flip” Nicklin has two main rules: “Shoot something new, or something old in such an original way that it’s new again, and get close to the action.” In Among Giants he follows these rules to the letter – with stunning results.

Spanning three decades of Nicklin’s career as a free-diving photographer for National Geographic, this rich retrospective documents close encounters with over 30 species of whales and dolphins. On one page, ghost-white belugas stare quizzically up at the camera from dark Arctic depths, on another, bowhead whales break the surface like dark icebergs against grey skies.

Quite apart from spectacular shots of humpbacks breaching, or dolphins wake-riding – to which Nicklin brings a dynamic clarity – we are treated to lesser-known behaviours: orcas scratch their backs on pebbles at “rubbing beaches” and an Amazon river dolphin tries to bite the photographer’s ankle.

Nicklin accompanies the images with a refreshingly open and unpretentious personal narrative telling the stories behind the pictures. He relates the frustrations of wildlife photography: the months in camp without seeing anything or the ruin of great footage by a camera freezing up.

With homey prose, Nicklin is an enthusiastic seaman recounting the anecdotes of glory days: how it felt to free-dive to 30 metres, down below a humpback male singing at 170 decibels; or the day a polar bear shredded his tent while he was out looking for narwhals. Through these anecdotes you get a sense of a man who simply loves what he does.

Not all the characters in Nicklin’s story have fins. He also paints a vivid and often humorous picture of the community of researchers united by their passion for – and dedicated to the conservation of – whales and dolphins.

Among Giants is beautiful, and Nicklin’s enthusiasm sparkles off the page. Enjoy, but be warned, you will want his job.

source: CultureLab: Whales in close-up

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