Andy Mann is an adventurer who just-so-happens to visually document everything he does. His exploits include diving with sharks, expeditions in the Arctic and world-renowned climbs, which means he is able to capture moments that no one else in the world can.
Mann’s currently part of a five-year project set in the Bahamas to study and ultimately protect oceanic whitetip sharks. We chatted with the filmmaker about his approach to diving, capturing underwater images and the importance of trusting your gear.
Q: How did your interest in adventure documentation come about?
A: When I first set down this path of documentary adventure and our changing oceans I was obsessed with the history of exploration. Origins in adventure are rooted deeply in exploring the unknown and the pure mystery of it. Without mystery, there is no adventure. To this day, I’ll immerse myself in old literature on expeditions by those that explored these places before me.
Q: What has this project been like?
A: Working with the oceanic whitetip sharks off Cat Island is a five-year project, working with scientists to tag and understand this relatively unknown species of shark. We’ll spend hours in the water observing them before targeting pregnant female sharks to safely apply a satellite tracking device to hopefully learn where they go to give birth. The pupping grounds are ultimately the areas we want to protect.
Q: What sort of preparation goes into a dive before you actually get underwater?
A: Before a day of free-diving into the depths, I start my preparations early. I allow myself to get out any expectations or any hopes and fears I may have leading into it. I just relax, go into technical nerd mode with my gear and enjoy the experience. I do my best work when I move slow and have fun.
Q: What goes through your head when you’re face-to-face with a shark?
A: There is a short learning curve to being in the water with sharks. You have to adjust to their behavior and observe with respect. I trust sharks very much and I trust my judgment. If I notice anything small, like a sudden change in behavior in the shark, I’ll adjust instantly or I’ll get out of the water.
Q: How does trusting your equipment factor into being underwater?
A: Trusting my equipment is paramount to my job as an underwater photographer. I simply cannot give the integrity of my gear a second thought once I enter the water. I’m focused on my breath, the sharks and making a memorable image. Same goes with my watch, my scuba tank and right up to my mask.
Q: Does your concept of time change at all when you’re underwater?
A: The concept of time is the reason to approach underwater wildlife encounters on a breath hold. I consider anything over one minute a good dive in the deep blue ocean with sharks. Everything goes quiet: no voices, no noise, just you and 99-percent of the earth by volume, water.
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