INTERVIEW

Benoît Stichelbaut · Ocean photographer

How better to start an expedition dedicated to outreach on human-ocean interactions than by meeting an ocean photographer? Upon arrival in Concarneau, we set out to interview Benoît Stichelbaut, a sailing and ocean photographer particularly admired for his spectacular shots of the Ar-Men lighthouse.

photo from a royalty free image bank

Having made his debut in the world of sailing and ocean racing, Benoît quickly turned to photography of the environment he loves so much: the sea.

 

"I don't do [photography] to defend the ocean. I do this because I enjoy it! "Exclaims Benoît, longtime lover of the big blue. Sailing, a sport where you are in direct contact with water, salt and wind, was a major hobby for him before moving towards ocean racing as a photographer. His knowledge of the weather and the tides - acquired through navigation - was a major asset, allowing him to anticipate a good shot, always searching for the photo that will awe the public. Having lived in Concarneau for the past twenty years, his office is above the city's fishing port. The sea is never far away.

 

"My job is to take photos, to do my best to depict the sea or the ocean as I see it, or as I feel it. His photos of the legendary Ar-Men lighthouse during winter storms invite the public to discover a powerful and untameable ocean. Aerial shots of the coast portray the fragility of the coastline. Other photos of fishing vessels and naval workers illustrate our dependence on the ocean.

 

Photography is a powerful way to raise awareness. Images help us better understand often complex phenomena, and help define our way of thinking and acting in the face of climate change. Combining reality and art, they allow the photographer to convey his impressions, sensations, and emotions. To fight fake news, it is believed - often wrongly - that it is enough to simply state the facts. This is without taking into account how the human brain functions, neither rational nor logical: it seems that "a picture says more than a thousand words".

Capturing the moment.

Comparing photos from year to year, decade to decade, photography can easily illustrate the changes we are experiencing. The wonderful “Extreme Ice Challenge” project was able to take full advantage of this powerful tool by installing cameras on twenty four glaciers. The images they collected give a terrifying glimpse of the retreat of the glaciers.

 

Closer to home, the website Bretagne, de 1950 à nos jours (or Brittany, from 1950 to the present day), allows us to see the Breton coastline seen from the sky, a 50-year gap between the right and left sides of the image.

 

Stimulating our emotions.

Journalistic, landscape or portrait, a photograph can captivate us for hours, confronting us with a reality, an emotion. The power of the waves, the dismay of a population during a flood, the feeling of helplessness and anger which arises in front of clichés of beaches drowning in plastic, the wonder that one feels when discovering the exceptional life-forms of the deep ocean, the tranquility transmitted by the sun rising over the sea - so many images that spur our imagination and arouse our senses. How can we better understand the data on ocean acidification than by witnessing the distressing spectacle of massive bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef?

 

Conditioning our preferences.

Robert Zajonc, American psychologist specializing in social psychology, says that without affect, without emotion, information lacks meaning. His studies show that - contrary to what we like to imagine - our preferences are not formed in a purely rational way. They evolve to conform to the group's expectations, to imitate our peers (a phenomenon particularly visible in fashion). They also fluctuate in response to repeated visual stimuli. In other words, seeing the same image several times alters our preferences, which in turn influence our values, cultural norms, political affiliations, and behaviors. It is a form of conditioning: the more we see a behavior, the more we will consider it desirable, well perceived by our peers, which will unconsciously push us to act in the same way. On the one hand utilized by the industry, namely through advertising, to push us to consume in a certain way, this mechanism equally influences our way of thinking about current global changes.


Pushing towards action.

Survival instinct causes us to have a binary reaction when we face a hostile situation: to fight, or to flee. If a situation seems too complex, too difficult to grasp, and our actions without consequence, then we will all tend to prefer flight. When faced with an image we can have a similar reaction, action or denial. In order to discourage flight, choosing positive images, which show not only the causes and impacts of global changes but also solutions at our level, will allow each of us to become aware of the challenges of our time without being overwhelmed by the immensity of the task.

The English NGO "Climate Outreach" has developed the "Climate Visuals" project precisely to contribute to a diverse and impactful representation of climate change. Research work in social and cognitive sciences led them to create a guide with seven principles of climate change communication:

 

1 - Showing “real” humans

2 - Telling new stories

3 - Showing the causes of climate change on their scale

4 - Showing emotionally powerful impacts

5 - Understanding your audience

6 - Showing local impacts (but serious)

7 - Paying attention to the use of social protest images

 

On their site, you will find a free image bank, to help you in your communications on this complex subject.

 

To our knowledge, there is no equivalent platform for the ocean. This is why we have open access images from our expedition that are available on our website.
 

And when photography is not enough, how do you engage with the general public about the ocean? The answer is easy for Benoît Stichelbaut: get them on a boat. “When you get on a boat, you enter a different world. You have to be more aware of what's going on, you need to be in the moment. You become a sailor as soon as you step on a boat - and if you are a sailor, you have to be more present. Your action is focused on the current, on the clouds… And there you are, on the verge of change. ”

© Louise Ras · Sailing Hirondelle

Discover some inspiring photographers working on the ocean and climate change

SOURCES

Chapman, Lickel et Markowitz, Reassessing Emotion in Climate Change Communication, Nature Climate Change Vol. 7, 2017 : https://www.nature.com/articles/s41558-017-0021-9.epdf?sharing_token=lgnW2dC4P3i8e1U4xbPZgdRgN0jAjWel9jnR3ZoTv0NJ2dqegAz3p7E3aD97CVMYFbYkHsZbLm2GJu1oqqz4E0z5vj00t2wyXNnrM-d0P6bq4ZyAKVyvCbpVcuW2ZaM2oTFJvHzF_klokn5JAOqGjnCgSntJJ9xoCncogv2961s5CEcDNo-H_eCYG9kuIVSOv0NdUNe-uQWYE_JDc2A1NezULcJHx5fr0fUEVqP59NkML4hZeTOdaeBx3IRCsgowKTbGu3G_Rsn5zHlRWrRzZQPjon8jolXWJtJ6D5bZSZuULLaA8Y96gLVGWlgDONYN&tracking_referrer=www.theguardian.com

 

Climate Outreach: https://climateoutreach.org/

 

Climate Visuals : https://climatevisuals.org/

Karunungan, Can Photography Change the Way We See Climate Change ?, Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, 2019 : 

https://tyndall.ac.uk/news/can-photography-change-way-we-see-climate-change

 

Markowitz et Sweetland, Entering Climate Change Communications Through the Side Door, Stanford Social Innovation Revue, 2018 : https://ssir.org/articles/entry/entering_climate_change_communications_through_the_side_door 

 

Shields, Why we’re rethinking the images we use for our climate journalism, The Guardian, 2019 : https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/oct/18/guardian-climate-pledge-2019-images-pictures-guidelines

 

Zajonc, Mere exposure: a gateway to the subliminal, American Psychological Society, 2001 : http://www.communicationcache.com/uploads/1/0/8/8/10887248/mere_exposure_gate_way_to_the_subliminal.pdf

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