Conservation

Ocean art meets photography

INTERVIEW WITH AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY Francesca Page

“I WANT MY OCEAN ART TO CAPTURE THE MAGIC OF THE OCEAN AND HOPEFULLY IGNITE A FIRE IN OTHERS TO WANT TO PROTECT IT.” – FRANCESCA PAGE

UK-based Francesca Page is an internationally selling artist and illustrator with a passion for the ocean. As a dive professional, she is on a lifelong mission to save the ocean – one painting at a time. In this interview, she talks about how ocean art can foster conservation and how her underwater photography ties in with it.  

Oceanographic Magazine (OM): How did you fall in love with the ocean? When did you notice that you want to dedicate your life to protecting it?

Francesca Page (FP): Growing up, I had a fear of the ocean due to an accident that happened to me when I was very young. I have always been fascinated by nature and all I wanted to do was paint, draw and photograph the animals around me. It wasn’t until I was 13 when I learnt how to scuba dive that my eyes were opened to a whole new incredible world and my fear of the ocean turned into love. My life, passion and mindset changed in a matter of a few lessons and scuba diving made me realise that fear is all in the mind. From that moment on, I knew that diving and the ocean were going to be a big parts of my life, career and creative practice. It led me to go into becoming a diving instructor, underwater photographer and shark addict. I have been dedicating my art practice to helping protect sharks since I was 17 years old – I encountered a thresher shark that year and my mindset and life’s path changed.

OM: What do you want to achieve with your art?

FP: I want my art to capture the magic of the ocean through my ocean art and hopefully ignite a fire in others to want to protect it. I am extremely passionate about using my skills to create change. I believe art has the power to not only connect others to the wonders found in our ocean but also help in the fight against climate change and ultimately create a better planet for all. I am in awe with the beauty and magic found in nature, it is this very feeling that inspires my artwork. I believe that as an artist we are put on this planet to help heal, connect, and create love. I want my work to transcend people’s minds into another world, to see the world from another perspective and to grow passion for the creatures or places I am trying to communicate. I guess, I ultimately want to rub some of my passion onto others. After all, when you love something you will do anything to protect it.

OM: When did you first get into underwater photography?

FP: I have always had a fascination for photography growing up. My dad and granddad are amateur photographers so at a young age I was introduced to the world of painting with light. Nature has always been my main focus and when I learnt to scuba dive at the age of 13, I knew that underwater photography was going to be a big part of my career. It was only when I was training to become a dive master and open water instructor at the age of 22, that I first tried my hand at photography below the waves. It was an instant connection and love. Since then, my passion has only grown and the addiction for capturing ocean magic has been my purpose in life. Whether that’s through the mediums of photography, painting, digital illustration or writing, the ocean’s forever magic has enchanted my spirit and is my mission in life.

OM: One of your shots – the one of the eagle ray – won the National Geographic Traveller competition. How did this photo come to exist? Tell me a little more about the back story behind this shot.

FP: This photo was taken in Cocos Island, Costa Rica on a wild dive filled with life, sharks and rays. It was towards the end of an epic dive and the group I was in started to ascent for our safety stop. As I was staring into the dark blue abyss of Cocos Island, suddenly a beautiful spotted eagle ray soared overhead. Her star-kissed wings moved in a wave-like motion as she gracefully flew into the dark depths below. Without even thinking, I started to follow her, losing all track of time and depth I was mesmerised by her beauty. As I was taking this photo, my dive computer started to beep at me frantically, without realising she had taken me down with her. I said my last goodbyes as I slowly started to return to the group above. I watched her until all you could see were tiny white stars glimmering in the twilight zone below.

OM: How can your photography and art help foster ocean conservation?

FP: Art in any form can capture the imagination, tying moments in the viewer’s personal history to the present. Ocean art opens the empathy door, inviting you into a world you may not have yet explored or taking you to a place in your mind you have not investigated yet. Art helps to provoke feeling and passion which I believe is the foundation to taking the first steps into anthropogenic consciousness.

‘Once you love something you will do anything to protect it.’

Photography plays an important role in my art and I see both the importance of photographs and paintings in connecting the viewer and playing on their heart strings to help create that connection needed to bring about change. When I am out in the field, whether that’s diving into the blue with sharks or exploring the magic found on land, photography is such an important tool for me to use to help capture these special moments.

Diving into the ocean and seeing the wonders found below the waves is something only a small percentage of the human population has experienced. As an underwater artist, I have the beautiful and unique power to connect people to the magic found in the ocean. Allowing people to gain that strong connection from the comfort of the land without getting their feet wet. Even though I strongly believe the ultimate connection is to experience it for yourself, I am aware this is not possible for many people. My work can act as gateway to the endless worlds, life and beauty found in the ocean.

Engaging with a good work of art can connect you to your senses, body and mind. It can make the world be felt. And this, in turn, sparks thinking, action and change. Art can help you gain that connection, passion and that energy to wanting to protect it.

OM: Why did you bring the 200 SHARKS project to life?

FP: The mission for my 200 Sharks project is to dive with, photograph and paint 200 different species of sharks. And then, through the power of art and storytelling, to bring you face-to-face with the ocean’s most iconic and misunderstood fish, the shark. Through my artwork I aim to provide a spotlight for these living dinosaurs, showcasing their intelligence, habits, adaptations, diversity, beauty, and personalities. With this project I am creating a body of work that takes my own personal diving encounters and uses them to fuel artworks that break down the negative stigma on sharks – turning fear into love. I believe education and connection is the key to unlocking the empathy door within our minds. Art holds the power to create feeling, passion, and ultimately change. Our world is a better place with sharks in it, and as an artist I feel it is my duty to be a voice for these creatures. I am just at the very start of this project – I see 200 Sharks as my artist legacy and my life’s mission!

OM: What do you have planned for the future?

FP: Moving into 2022, I plan on throwing myself fully into my 200 Sharks project. Capturing, diving with and painting more species of sharks is pretty much my daily dream now. In January 2022, I am planning on going to Egypt for a few months to become a professional freediver and to continue developing my underwater photography skills. I am a professional scuba diver, but I am finding limits to scuba when it comes to getting up close to sharks. Improving my freediving skills in the water will hopefully allow me to have better encounters with sharks and marine animals. Not to mention the diving in that area of the world is simply beautiful and one of my top five sharks to dive with can be found there – the Oceanic whitetip.

After years of staying at home and exploring the ocean wonders found on my doorstep here in the UK, I am also excited to explore more of the local marine life next season – two of my bucket list photo goals is of basking sharks and gannets in the water, so I have a mission to bring these fantasies to life.

I am also hosting three scuba and freediving trips to the Azores in August 2022 where I hope I have a month filled with shark action and crazy underwater encounters. I’m excited for the future and to see what artworks will be created from the ocean magic to come.

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