Capturing the moment: Franco Banfi

by   Profile Mares   When 7th July 2021
Pod of sperm whale, (Physeter macrocephalus), Vulnerable (IUCN), The sperm whale is the largest of the toothed whales. Sperm whales are known to dive as deep as 1,000 meters in search of squid to eat. Image has been shot in Dominica, Caribbean Sea, Atlantic Ocean. Photo taken under permit n°RP 16-02/32 FIS-5.
Image captured by Franco Banfi in Dominica

I’m extremely grateful to call the vast blue expanse off Dominica Island, in the Caribbean Sea, home. Its unfathomable sapphire blue laps the western coasts, in jarring chromatic antithesis with the vivid green of the rainforest and the frequent double-arched rainbows (…yes, it rains quite often on the mountains!). 

This cosy, warm home is blessed with a unique presence: sperm whales, and in large numbers. Sometimes they are discreet. Other times they fascinate us with their more overwhelming social behaviour, among themselves and also with freedivers. I have been lucky enough to have had an awesome connection with them over the years, and I’m often accepted as part of their units (called “pods”) as if it were quite natural. What more could I want?  Gliding in these waters makes me feel at ease, safe, at home. Gliding in these waters with whales is like sharing my soul and my journey with my best friends.

Everything is significantly easier with my reliable, minimal but gorgeous gear. Despite multiple trips every year by plane, and intense use under different conditions (on boats, on the shore, on piers etc) I have never had one item break: this says a lot! A heartfelt ‘thanks’ to ‘mamma Mares’ and the most extraordinary team of experts I’ve ever worked with...a true family, always helpful, always ready to cheer me on and support me in my projects.

My eyes: the Star Liquidskin! Small and comfortable with a large visual field; excellent even for pro-photographers. The mask takes up little space in my large luggage and is robust.
My second skin: the Horizon wetsuit! Its neoprene is flexible and stretchy, easy to don and doff, hydrodynamic in the water, comfortable and fashionable.
My propellers: Either the Razor Pro or the Razor Matrix fins! My trusty Razor Pro are great to put in my checked luggage, whereas my Razor Matrix are the wonderful result of years of knowledge, technique and experience. Both offer high-performance and are powerful on long swims. 

With this gear, I also need a few kilos of weight, a weight-belt and my “lovebirds” underwater camera set!

And then comes the best bit…one blow approaches from a distance, the blow gets closer…

“Ready, on the platform…in the waaateeeerrrrrr” our skipper shouts. Sabrina and I slide in to the sapphire water. Everything is perfect, we are at home. Our best friends are playing a few metres below the surface. A few members of a larger pod, they are waiting for us. They are calling us with multiple clicks, a familiar song. After a quick but accurate scan of our bodies with their powerful sonars, we are welcomed in to the unit. We are allowed to approach, get closer, swim beside the first whale, and then come the others, making us part of their intimate, close-knit group. I look at Sabrina descending in the water, I don’t think she has ever gone so deep, her swimming is balanced, rhythmic, she is totally at one with the water and is accepted in to the whales’ group: a small fish among giants! 

I raise my camera and start shooting. I long for compelling, deep images which depict the mindfulness of the moment, without boundaries, without limits. I’m not looking for a picture ‘of’ an interaction, but for a picture ‘about’ socialization, able to transmit emotion to the viewer. It is about having an open mind, being present and receptive, waiting for the light to change because it might get even better, even if I’m already fighting with the need to take another breath.

This is how we share our vision and the poetry in our souls, our lives, our jobs.

Written by
Profile Mares
When 7th July 2021
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