The Adventure of the Sea – In Conversation with Kurt Arrigo
Kurt Arrigo is one of the world’s finest marine photographers. He has been passionate about the sea from birth and has been sailing, scuba diving and photographing since he was a young child. He brought together his three loves as a marine photographer. Through his career he has captured everything from yacht races to sharks to sail boats to “mermaids.” In this interview he goes into detail about his first and main inspiration- the sea. He discusses his influences, and what drives him continually to the water.
Q. Tell us a bit about yourself. What was your career path? How did you go from being an aspiring photographer to actually doing it full time for a living?
I grew up in Malta which is a small island in the Mediterranean. Ever since I was a young kid I have always been connected to the sea and that was probably my mental inspiration. At a very early age I picked up a camera for the first time, about eleven years old. At the same time I used to do a lot of sailing and yacht racing. Although I was very connected to the sea and had my camera, it was only when I was about sixteen or seventeen when I bought a proper camera. I started shooting yacht races and sailing and that’s when the two merged together and that was the starting block of my career. I was very connected to the sea, very connected to sailing and the ocean, very connected to mother nature at an early age. It was a natural progression for me; going from sailing to photography to where I am now in my career. I started going scuba diving when I was nine years old and later on incorporated that into my work as well. I think my curiosity and interest in life and exploring – I put it all together; the thrill of adventure and the love of exploration and interacting with people. I guess it was my character and nature to be doing what I’m doing, how I’m doing it and the approach I take on.
Q. You said you grew up in Malta (an island) and it was where you first connected to the sea. Could you describe the influence it had on you.
It certainly had and it still is a huge influence. It’s a small island in the Mediterranean so, of course, there was the impact of the water and the sea on me. Probably because it is a small island, it sparked a curiosity in me to travel and explore other places and added another dynamic angle to it. The influence of the sea and the beauty of the island; the space and the place certainly had an influence. It happened without me even realizing – it was a natural inbred instinct for me to find what I love to do – the combination of my love for swimming and sailing and the ocean. Then I picked up a camera and began my journey visually to create content and share it with people.
Q. What makes a good picture stand out from the average?
I think it needs to have an impact. It needs to shout out with a strong message whether it’s a place, an action, a person or the environment. It really needs to speak a thousand words. When people stop to appreciate and to think “what’s happening there” and you look into that picture a lot deeper than it actually is and it sort of takes you into another dimension. That’s what I look for in a really strong image to portray. I always found communication best though the sea.
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Q. What was the craziest adventure/place that your job has taken you to?
I have been on quite a few different adventures, explorations and assignments from the Galapagos t0 climbing the Himalayas to spending long hours out at sea; once out for 36 hours at a stretch. There was one time in Tasmania when the sea was excessively rough and I was on a boat and we had to turn around because we were getting caught between two islands. The waves were big and I got to this point where I wondered what I was doing over there. There were two helicopters along as well just in case but that was a precaution, nothing too bad happened. But there are situations where you can wonder that you work so hard to put yourself there in the environment to get a great shot and sometimes you’re out there for hours and nothing happens. And then something can happen in a heart beat, in fifteen minutes. It’s really more about being prepared for anything that might unfold within seconds.
Q. Have you had any interaction with sharks or other dangerous animals in the sea?
No dangerous interactions, but I have been swimming with hammerhead sharks and sea lions. You have to have an instinct of when to back off.
Having been out in the field for so many years you develop a natural instinct of what you should do and you get cautious about the choices you make.
Q. What or who would you cite as the inspiration behind your work?
There are so many people who have inspired me even today. You see these interesting young photographers on social media who are driven and who have that zest for trying to create great content and work. I would say from an earlier day Henri Cartier-Bresson as a general photographer and as a street photographer. He certainly had a lot of strong messages that influenced how you should capture a moment, how you should think about your own style. I read about him as a child and how he developed his style without all the tools that we have today and I think he was a very influential person.
Q. What would you say is your favorite piece of your own work and why?
You become so critical about your own work and now I’m hoping that I am still creating it to be honest. I don’t think the perfect picture would make me stop. There are many pictures that I do enjoy and like to look at over and over again. I’m seeing them and they take me back. In a way I’m hoping that I’m hungry to keep creating more imagery and combine it with a little adventure and life and exploration. It’s lovely when all the elements come together. But when they don’t cooperate (because the weather is not great, etc.) you have to push yourself hard and think “what can I create with what I have here” and so they are all different challenges.
Q. How do you think your work impacts our world?
I’d like to think that it creates a desire for people to go out and live life and to hopefully appreciate life and what we do have. To explore the world and push boundaries and to enjoy life. Now more than ever we are connected through social media and we can communicate our visual journey and it is so rewarding to have a direct contact with an audience who appreciate you work and sometimes can give you a different message. Visually, I am just trying to portray my journey.