“I belong to a privileged generation; the one before me lacked good technology for underwater photography, but the one that succeeds me will lack good reefs and abundant ocean life. I decided to make the most of my perfect timing and leave my daughters and their children something to remember those glory days by. This is how I left the sharks at Wall Street to pursue those that inhabit the oceans.”
Alberto Luca Recchi
A. L. Recchi is an underwater photographer, writer, and explorer with a passion for the ocean and its preservation. In the late ‘90s, Recchi led some of the first expeditions in search of great white sharks and sperm whales in the Mediterranean. His commitment to documenting the giants of the ocean has allowed him to explore the world and raise awareness for the beautiful creatures he hopes to protect.
Recchi’s photographs have been showcased around the world at conferences and fine art galleries, in articles for National Geographic, and more. Recchi owes his international success to the work he felt motivated to pursue due to his passion for the giants of the sea. The photos and footage he captured reveals a close look into sea life that was not previously seen before his generation.
Growing up during the introduction of regulators and fins that allowed for underwater exploration, Recchi took advantage of the fact that he was part of the first generation to look below the surface of the ocean waters. After working in the field for over 40 years, Recchi has witnessed the tragic transformation occurring below the ocean's surface that has been caused by trash and cruel hunting practices. He hopes his photographs and work will spread awareness for the beautiful creatures that he strives to preserve.
The transition from documentation to emotional reaction has been one of the greatest challenges these past few years. The ocean is art, and art is what we imagine it to be. We used to appreciate a painting that looked like a photograph, now we appreciate a photograph that looks like a painting. Recchi moves from “pure naturalism” to “fairy naturalism”.
We recently connected with Recchi to talk about his photographs, early expeditions, and how the overall perception of the sea has changed throughout his life.
Read on to find out more in an exclusive interview with Alberto Luca Recchi.
You have said, “The sea must no longer be seen only as a legacy but as a responsibility because the future is the best gift we can give to our children.” Can you talk about why the ocean is so important to you and to our future?
-The sea is important to all of us because it gives us half of the oxygen we breathe and absorbs a third of the carbon dioxide we emit. We owe every second breath to the sea. From those living in the mountains to the three billion people deriving the protein they need to survive from the sea, we have to thank the sea for everything it gives us every day.
Who are some of your influences in and out of the water?
-In the water I learned from Howard Hall. In life I was inspired by Piero Angela, the Italian David Attenborough.
In 1999, you led “Mission Shark,” the first expedition in search of sharks in the Mediterranean. On Day 37 of that journey, you wrote the following quote in your journal:
"The view that meeting a shark always comes to a tragic end is a very common one. Press, television, cinema, and even novels have always painted the same picture about sharks, that of implacable killers ready to attack any human venturing into their waters. As a result we don't have any real idea about what a shark is. We only know its caricature taken from Hollywood or from novelists. Reality is much different. There are many different kinds of sharks and only a very few of them are dangerous to mankind."
After 40 years of traveling the world and sharing your work, do you think this quote still remains true, or do you believe this perception of sharks has changed?
-Something has changed because today people pay to see them. But the image that big fish can eat us has remained. For two reasons: first, because it rarely happens and then because of people like me. Yes, like me. We, the documentary filmmakers. I used to be one, and I did a lot of forcing to sell photos and films. We would go to waters where there were sharks, lure them with food, then when they were a few centimeters from the camera, we would remove the food at the last moment to film them with their mouths wide open. That way you could see their teeth clearly. Try doing the same thing with your little dog and from a few centimeters, with its teeth out and gums up, it too will look like a monster. We cheated, and today I apologize to the sharks, who are just fish and not monsters. Out of 500 species, the number of truly dangerous species can be counted on the fingers of one hand.
From finding a megalodon tooth to building a bite meter for measuring the pressure of a shark bite, what was your most memorable moment from “Mission Sharks”?
-The moment I won't forget was when, after six months of searching all over the Mediterranean for the white shark, after facing storms and breakdowns, after spending 3,500 hours throwing blue fish into the sea to attract it (without success), we heard on television that someone who wasn't really looking for it had seen and photographed the white shark: an 11-year-old boy captured the photo in front of one of the Mediterranean's most crowded beaches. The child's father had caught a tuna fish then attached it to the boat. The shark smelled it, came closer, bit the tuna, and even did a few laps around the boat to be better photographed by the child. This was a mockery for me who had been looking for it for six months with a team of biologists from all over Italy.
I highly recommend checking out Recchi’s full onboard journal from the “Mission
Sharks” expedition: http://www.obiettivosquali.it/eng/pagine/Libro_di_bordo/libro_di_bordo.htm
You've mentioned that you feel lucky to be born in a period where masks, fins, and regulators were invented, allowing you to lead some of the first underwater expeditions in search of sharks, whales, and more. Are there any new technologies or equipment that you've utilized recently to remain on the forefront of new ocean discoveries?
-No, tanks are still big and heavy, and closed circuit diving, the kind that doesn't make bubbles, has been around for many decades. There are no earth-shattering novelties. But the important point is this: when I go underwater today, I don't have fun anymore. The sea has changed. Before there was life everywhere and I used to slalom among the fish, whereas today I do it among the rubbish. Some of the trash is used by the creatures of the sea, most of it is just abandoned rubbish. Every time I dive I feel like I am visiting a sick friend, and every time I return it gets a little worse. Why should I insist on going underwater? Today you have to go further and further and deeper to see less and less. I belong to a privileged and unique generation: my parents' generation did not yet have the equipment to photograph fish and my daughters' generation will no longer have fish.
What message do you hope to convey through your photographs?
-Fortunately, there is hope: the sea is not like a mine that once emptied is empty forever; the sea is like a forest, you just have to leave it alone and it recovers, because the creatures of the sea make millions of offspring. The experience of marine reserves proves this to us. The sea, if left to rest, can go back to being as it was when I was a boy. I hope, believe, and strive for this. This is the purpose of my job and my work: to raise awareness among those who do not go underwater. It is not enough to look at the sea from the shore to understand how it is, nor is it enough to go to the seaside, because when you see it from the outside, its immense blue and beautiful surface hides what is happening
underneath. Even sailing for half a century does not tell you how the sea is. To understand it and to make a comparison between how it is and how it was, you have to dive and have dived before.
What can the everyday person do to help our oceans and make a difference?
-We can all help the planet and the sea. None of us created the hole in the ozone layer, none of us deforested the Amazon rainforest, and none of us removed the tusks from elephants, but we can all do something: at the table, because we all eat. Eating today is also an ecological choice. It is enough to avoid eating animals caught with trawls that scrape the seabed, catching everything they find and destroying them. Fishing with that equipment is like going hunting in a forest with a bulldozer: you may catch a hare or a boar, but you will destroy the forest in the process, catching animals that are killed and then thrown away because they are inedible (starfish, gorgonians, madrepores, sponges). We also need to stop eating super predators. Just as we don't eat lions, bears, and wolves, let’s stop
eating sharks, marlins, and swordfish that are the bears and wolves of the sea. These fish are super predators at the top of the food chain. Sharks are disappearing because we catch more of them than are born. This is a big problem for the sea because sharks are the directors of the oceans, and by eating the weakest and sickest prey, they prevent the spread of epidemics and ensure the health of the oceans. I believe that, in a few years, we will no longer eat them because knowledge of the fragility of the sea is spreading among young people and food culture will grow to be more attentive. My grandparents even ate dolphins, but I don't think my grandchildren will eat the super predators of the sea anymore. The sea will make it.
You can learn more about A. L. (Alberto Luca) Recchi and follow his journey via these links: