When I first started my journey of self-discovery more than 15 years ago, I was terrified of the ocean and what might be in it to eat me! I lived 20 metres from the beach in a tiny rickety shack in Grand Cayman which contained nothing but a single bed. I forced myself to take the plunge and go snorkeling every day to justify to myself the sacrifice of better living conditions for location. I would last about 5 minutes and then virtually walk on water to get back to the beach when I saw a school of large silvery fish in the murky shallow water, which I later learned were completely harmless and usually shy Tarpon.
The breakthrough came when a friend offered to teach me the mysteries of SCUBA and I reluctantly accepted, telling myself it would be something I might regret for the rest of my life if I didn’t at least try. My first few breaths underwater in the swimming pool were a revelation. Within a matter of a few minutes I knew I had found my calling. I have never forgotten my first ever dive on a shallow wreck where I swam with a small turtle in warm crystal clear blue water. I came back from the dive beaming and wanting to share my experience with the whole world. From that point on I single-mindedly pursued that all-consuming desire to develop a diving career. I have been working as a dive professional ever since. That was 2001.
After that first life changing moment and ten years or so of teaching diving and changing the lives of others, I bought my first camera and underwater housing. I had no idea how to use it. I couldn’t find anyone to teach me photography, but found an underwater video course instead. Again, Lady Luck stepped in and determined my future - I fell in love with this as well. The movement and emotion I could capture on film enthralled me.
I practiced both my underwater video and photography skills whenever I got the chance, and eventually talked my boss on a liveaboard in Palau into letting me add another string to my bow on a professional level. As well as teaching diving, guiding, filling tanks, driving boats, serving breakfast lunch and dinner to guests and pretty much every other duty onboard except for cooking and cleaning the cabins, I started making weekly videos for my captive audience on the liveaboard. There weren't too many hours left in the day for sleeping, and I was dubbed "Miss Cafe au Lait" by the captain, for the 12 cups of coffee or so I would drink daily to stay on top of my game.
But hard work doesn't phase me and I have always been known for my "pig-headed" determination. I have never looked back and slowly transitioned gradually from teaching, which I still love, to my new passion, underwater imagery.
That first course that gave me an understanding of the basics, but I have learned mainly from trial and error, the advice of other photo and video professionals, and lots and lots of practice. The best advice I can give any beginner photographer is not to become disillusioned if their results are not what they expect on day one, or day ten or even year one or year ten. Don’t give up. It takes time and practice to perfect your art.
Through the years my passion for diving has grown and I have explored many different dive destinations around the world, including Palau, Indonesia, Borneo, the Cayman Islands, Fiji and the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. I have gradually delved deeper into the ocean realm, realizing that there are so many undiscovered and unexplored places at depths that recreational divers can never go. So began my love of technical diving.
I am now trained to dive to a depth of 100m on a closed circuit rebreather, specialized dive equipment which recycles the gas I breathe and allows me to reach deeper depths and stay there for much longer. It also has the benefit of silent diving as it produces no bubbles. This means I can get much closer to shy, hard-to-capture marine life which flees at the noisy bubbles of open-circuit divers. This is the perfect tool for creating incredible underwater video and still imagery.
In 2012 I moved to Indonesia and the multitude of cultures, beautifully varied landscapes, and incredible underwater world have slowly gotten into my blood and under my skin. The people here have wormed their way into my heart and I now consider it to be home as much as my native and much loved New Zealand. Perhaps I have finally found the place I have been searching for all these years which will make me want to stop wandering and make a permanent place to establish my niche.
After a number of years working for a dive operation in Gili Trawangan near Lombok, in 2015 I founded Soulwater Productions, producing underwater videos and photos for the consumer market. In 2016 I moved to Bali and expanded to include professional marketing promotional imagery which has become my main production focus. In 2017 I decided to expand again and share my knowledge with others, designing a series of underwater photography and videography courses.
In 2012 a chance invitation by the Gili Eco Trust to visit the fish market at Tanjung Luar changed everything. This is a place where sharks are actively targeted for the precious commodity of their fins to be sold for shark fin soup, and mantas are often butchered for their gills to be used in "Chinese Medicine".
When I saw what was happening there my heart broke a little, and my love for the ocean and desire to preserve it consolidated. I had to do something about it. I felt the world needed to know about this tragedy and I wanted to investigate deeper into the complicated issues surrounding the trade of sharks and rays.
Over a period of 4½ years between 2012 and 2016, I filmed and edited the documentary “A Fish Full of Dollars”. The main goal of the film is to build awareness about the problem of global shark fishing and specifically about the Tanjung Luar market in Indonesia.
The film has progressed to win a number of prestigious awards, including Best Emerging Filmmaker at the Blue Ocean Film Festival & Conservation Summit and Best Nature/Environmental Documentary at the Canadian Diversity Film Festival in 2016, and Best of Show in the Docs Without Borders Film Festival in 2017.
Though the battle is far from over, the film continues to build awareness about this vital issue in Indonesia, screening at the 2017 Balinale International Film Festival, the first film festival which has screened it with Bahasa Indonesia subtitles, as well as at a number of small more intimate screenings.
My love for underwater photography and film grows ever stronger because it there is always something new to discover and learn. The beauty and movement which is the dance of life in our oceans continue to amaze me.
The diving community, and particularly the underwater photography community, is small and close-knit despite a big wide underwater world. There is a growing support network of professionals, keen to help each other create beautiful images and to discover and protect our largely unexplored ocean. Through social media, there is a rapidly developing channel for sharing impressions and messages for conservation and protection of our blue watery planet. The power of an image is immeasurable in the change it can create. The possibilities are endless!
Of course, if you ask about my favourite underwater creature, I will always immediately begin to talk with passion about sharks, without whom the rest of the ocean’s life cannot exist. Without the ocean, life on our planet cannot exist. A world without those sleek, beautiful, elegant creatures for me just would not be the same. Even after more than 5,000 dives I still get a huge thrill to see a shark. I am always excited about the possibility of a special moment of new discovery or new interactions.
I continue to search for new and meaningful subjects to film, relevant to both the Indonesian people and their spectacular marine environment which I hope to help them protect. I have been given a gift, perhaps a responsibility, an ability to capture with the lens the beauty that my eyes and heart behold, and share it with those who cannot explore beneath the waves.
And time for one last quote from the greatest ambassador the oceans have in our time:
Even if you never have the chance to see or touch the ocean, the ocean touches you with every breath you take, every drop of water you drink, every bite you consume. Everyone, everywhere is inextricably connected to and utterly dependent upon the existence of the sea.