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Ocean Soul

The works of Brian Skerry: Earth & Wine 2012

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then Brian skerry’s much-anticipated visit to omaha’s henry doorly Zoo and aquarium promises to Be filled with fascinating stories of Beauty, mystery and hope.

Skerry, an award-winning photojournalist for National Geographic Magazine, will be the keynote speaker at the third bi-annual Earth and Wine event thursday, september 6th. The earth and wine series was organized to raise awareness of the Zoo’s conservation programs and to connect those efforts to work taking place on a larger, global scale.

“I am looking forward to visiting your beautiful zoo,” skerry said during a phone interview from the national geographic headquarters in washington, d.c.

Skerry has witnessed his share of beauty and horror over the last three decades, having chronicled life above and below the waves in oceans all over the globe. he has lived on the bottom of the sea, spent months aboard fishing boats and dived beneath the arctic ice to capture his images, which received many accolades in the photography world. A photo skerry shot of a shark caught in a gill net was selected by national geographic as one of the top 50 photos of all time. another skerry image of his assistant standing next to a gigantic whale at the bottom of the ocean was selected by the international league of conservation photographers as one of the top 40 nature photographs of all time.

Those images and more than 160 others are featured in his new book “ocean soul,” a showcase of skerry’s stunning photography and stories of his adventurous life at sea. In his book, skerry chronicles the ocean as a place of beauty and mystery, a place in trouble, and ultimately, a place of hope that will rebound with the proper attention and care. He will talk in-depth about “ocean soul” at the september 6 earth and wine event. “i call this unofficially a midcareer retrospective,” skerry said. “I am proud of the book because it is a collection of my favorite images and details the behind the scenes stories of being a wildlife photographer.”

Skerry’s fascination with the sea began during his childhood in massachusetts. “My earliest recollection was that I was always very intrigued by the ocean as a child,” he said. “My parents would always take me to the beach. I always found it to be a mysterious place that spoke to me on a level of exploration and discovery. I evolved by becoming a diver first, but I always wanted to be an explorer of the sea.”

The young explorer set his sights on the sea after attending the oldest scuba show in the United States, the Boston Sea Rovers Conference.“Seeing all of those underwater photographs and video from the ocean caused me to have an epiphany. I always loved story telling and was a very visual person, so I knew that I wanted to do this with my life.”

Skerry purchased an old underwater camera and began chipping away at a career, spending much of his time in nearby New England waters diving and photographing shipwrecks. “I became pretty good at that and assignments started to come my way,” he said. “Eventually, I got that first assignment from National Geographic.”

National Geographic Photographer Bill Curtsinger called Skerry after seeing one of his natural history photos in a magazine. He wanted the fledgling photographer to take on an assignment in a murky, shipwreck site where the odds for success were clearly not in Skerry’s favor. “He said you get one chance, and there is a 98 percent chance you will fail. I ended up getting a good shot. National Geographic called and made a decision to develop me. Now, 14 years later, I am working on my 21st story for the magazine. I quickly seized on the dream of becoming a National Geographic photographer. It was a long shot, but I guess dreams do come true.”

His dream career has not come without risk and sacrifice. He has logged some 10,000 hours under the sea and frequently travels eight to nine months out of the year, keeping him away from his wife and daughter. “They understand, but it is difficult,” he said.

Then there are the obvious dangers of swimming in often uncharted waters. “Working in those alien environments, I have had some dicey moments. I have been chased by sharks and whales, grabbed by a giant squid and was lost at sea for more than two hours. But, I have to say that I have had thousands of fantastic experiences in the ocean. The good outweighs the bad. I never cease to be amazed how these animals let me into their world.”

Many of Skerry’s assignments today are bringing a sharper focus on how that world is changing to the detriment of animals and other sea life. His most recent National Geographic features have included dramatic photo shoots of the harp seal’s struggle to survive, the plight of the right whale, the alarming decrease in the world’s fisheries, sharks of the Bahamas and the planet’s last remaining pristine coral reefs.

“My evaluation was that I started to see a lot of problems in the world’s oceans,” Skerry said. “The story on the continuous hunting of harp seals and the global climate change affecting the sea ice received a lot of attention and that provided an opportunity to propose other topics for stories. Today I focus on a blend of celebratory images while trying to turn some attention to the problem and to create solutions.”

Skerry said speaking engagements like those at Omaha’s Zoo and Aquarium enable him to reach out to other audiences about the growing problems at sea. He has been working with non-governmental organizations across the country to raise awareness on those issues through his beautiful, yet often stark images. “The challenge is to not only preach to the choir, but to other audiences,” he said. “I have been very encouraged by what we have been able to do at National Geographic to raise awareness worldwide. The magazine reaches 50 million people a month, so I am trying to reach multiple sources and audiences to further that awareness.”

Perhaps nothing, however, speaks to the masses more than Skerry’s masterful images. His photo of a shark doomed by a gill net in Mexico's Gulf of California caught the attention of the Chilean government, which was considering a campaign to ban shark finning off its coastal waters. It is estimated that more than 40 million sharks are killed yearly for their fins. “The president of Chile wanted to use that photo on a presentation for that government’s campaign, and they did take steps toward a ban on finning,” Skerry said. “Great conservation photographs can show people things that will change the game a little. We need great images to capture people’s attention.”
Supporters of the Omaha Zoo Foundation’s Earth and Wine event on September 6th are certain to see plenty of those images and hear wonderful stories from one of the world’s top photographers.








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