When Matt Draper takes a photo of a great white shark, he’s not just snapping a picture: he’s helping capture the fearsome beauty of marine life, turning an image into a work of fine art. Draper, a self-taught photographer, has spent years traversing the oceans and free-diving for his photography, creating arresting images of some of the most misunderstood species on the planet, from orcas to tiger sharks. His goal: help us transform our fear into fascination, in turn teaching us to be better stewards of the oceans and the animals that inhabit them. Each of his photographs is taken in a single breath, using natural light and as little disturbance from his presence as possible. The result is art that respects, educates, and impresses all to encounter it. The Musings team is proud to have one of Draper’s striking works hanging in our office.
Photography is a fairly recent development for you. Can you tell us about your career trajectory and how you became a fine art photographer?
I always had an eye — or, better said, an interest in photography. And I loved expression through the form of fine art. It was an organic journey to pairing my love for the ocean and its inhabitants with photography. I first started in early 2014 creating a series of work.
You’ve photographed many marine species by now, from orcas to king penguins to great white sharks. How do you choose the subjects of your work?
I tend to gravitate towards large, pelagic species, especially sharks and whales. I usually have an idea of the image I want to create, and then will research the migration patterns and behavior to determine when and where to travel.
You work with a number of NGOS to support marine conversation. What do you think is the role of art in preserving ocean health?
Art can convey science through stimulating imagery. Imagery has the potential to evoke emotion, create awareness, and educate. In theory, art is the initiator of communication.
You’ve had many unique experiences interacting with animals in their natural habitats. What was one of your most memorable moments photographing wildlife?
Definitely my experience with mammal-eating orcas. I spent two weeks in a remote fishing community in Mexico and was graced with a pod of ten orca, including two large bulls, on my second-to-last day. I have never felt so intimidated in my life! I’ve interacted with great white, tiger, and mako sharks, but comparably the orca was energetically the most incredible to date
What lessons have you learned from the animals you photograph?
Each animal is vulnerable to demise thanks our existence alone. They need a voice, and have taught me to consider our daily environmental impact.
What do you hope your art will accomplish?
Ideally, it will help replace fear with fascination by fostering love for the ocean.