I got a chance to do a phone interview with renowned underwater photographer and videographer Valerie Taylor. You may not know her personally, but you’ve probably seen her works: she shot the underwater footage from Jaws, Orca and well, every teenager’s sizzling romantic film (in 1980) Blue Lagoon starring Brooke Shields.
In this interview, I’ve discovered three interesting things about her life as an underwater photographer including her thoughts on shooting Jaws, conservation policies in Asia and underwater photography in general. Valerie Taylor premieres her latest work, The Coral Triangle starting January 14 and every Tuesday thereafter at 7PM on Animal Planet.
I’m re-posting parts of the recording verbatim below. All photos and video are c/o myself and were taken all over the Philippines but mostly from Anilao, Batangas.
I have been very, very fortunate as an underwater photographer because my husband was a clever man and long before we had an underwater still camera he had built a housing for an old Sony that we had, and that was what I used. He built a – he built the housing. And my flash would actually be the headlight of a car and he waterproofed it. And I went on from there; I’d got a Hans Hass Rollei Marine Housing, which was the first proper underwater housing for a camera. And then I got the Calypso which was the first camera that didn’t need a housing, and I went on from there. And then my husband built, from that day on, all my housings and that gave me the chance to really show what I could do.
Up until probably 1971, all macro of underwater marine creatures was done in a tank, and I was doing it underwater. I sort of became quite famous around the world for my still photography and in reality, that’s – I mean, I wasn’t really trying. I was just making a living the best I knew how.
She started her career making money selling 16mm film full of shark photos
Today it is very easy to be a good underwater photographer because the cameras – the digital cameras just about do everything for you. However, you have to understand fish, you have to understand how to find unusual creatures, and that takes a fair amount of diving or a very good dive master will point these things out. So, it’s not difficult to be an underwater cameraman today, but it is difficult to be good enough to sell your images. You have to be better than I did, because there’s more people out there doing it. When I started doing underwater photography I had the field pretty much to myself. And I did have to understand how to find my aperture, work out the best light and so forth. The camera didn’t do it, it was all manual.
She was not expecting people to fear sharks after shooting Jaws
No regrets. Jaws was a fictitious story about a fictitious shark. It’s not true. I mean, you don’t go to New York and think you’ll see King Kong on top of the Empire State Building. It just doesn’t happen. And we were absolutely astounded by the reaction of the general public. And I mean, we both travelled around the US doing television shows, telling the general public that, ‘Jaws isn’t out there; this big shark is not off your beach.’ We’re not their natural prey, and it was just a terrible misunderstanding.
We tried to go around it. Peter Benchley, who wrote Jaws, said if he had known that men would go out killing sharks because they were going to get you, he would never have written the book. It was just unexpected. So, it’s a hard question to answer. Even Universal was totally bewildered by the reaction.
She believes that the Philippines has destroyed a lot of its reefs and whale shark watching is a good way to boost awareness.
Well, the best diving that I found was at Puerto Galera. There was nothing much there – a couple of little huts on the beach – but the diving was phenomenal. The Filipino government lent us some boats to go out to a reef called Apo Reef; they said, ‘This is the place, this is a protected area and it’s wonderful.’ And we got out there and found there was a big boat and there was maybe 50 or 70 men in the water dropping rocks on the reef and driving the fish into a net. And Apo Reef at that time just was not worth visiting. It was a mess because all the coral had been crumbled. [Ed’s Note: Apo Reef has since recovered since Valerie’s last visit to the Philippines]
I have found various places off the coast of the main island of the Philippines to be very good underwater diving. It’s good for photography. Also in the Philippines you have this place where you have whale sharks come in to the beach and people can pat them. I think that’s wonderful, and the village or township nearby protects them.
Catch Valerie in her latest underwater series, The Coral Triangle, premiering every Tuesday at 9PM starting January 14 2013 on Animal Planet with reruns every Wednesday at 4PM and Sunday at 6PM.