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Andy Mann hopes his photographs and stories can give a voice to the voiceless.
That’s why the award-winning photographer and marine conservationist spends months each year travelling and speaking for series like National Geographic Live. He brings his newest program, Andy Mann: From Summit to Sea, via Arts Commons Presents to the Jack Singer Concert Hall on Nov. 19 and 20.
For the past decade, Mann has been documenting marine life in all seven oceans but it was not the vocation he originally chose for himself. He trained to be a marine biologist but, at age 23 and barely out of college, he discovered rock climbing, and made it his career for almost a decade.
“I loved documenting adventure and that’s what rock climbing afforded me. It brought me to the top of some of the tallest mountains in the world. I thought that would be my life, but that changed in 2013 when National Geographic sent me to Franz Josef Land in Russia to document a marine expedition. I wasn’t a certified diver but I was still shooting in the water, just staying above the surface,” says Mann.
His work so impressed National Geographic that they sent him to Fiji with a shark expedition.
“I had to get dive-certified for that one in a heated pool in Colorado. The first day in Fiji when I swam with 50 bull sharks was actually my first open water dive. That day, and that expedition, changed my life. I suddenly found purpose with my camera. I wanted others to see the magnificent, amazing creatures I had seen. Telling their stories became my addiction.”
Mann has remained fascinated with sharks ever since and has captured some amazing, award-winning photographs of what he calls nature’s perfect creature.
“Sharks have had 300 million years of evolving perfection. They are so charismatic. We’ve been told they are dangerous, but they’re not if you are as cautious and calculating as they are when you are in their domain. When you dive with them, you are putting yourself in the food chain, and that’s so humbling. I always just let them come to me. I love it when they rub against my camera, which they will do because they are curious.”
Mann says he isn’t worried he’ll be a shark’s dinner because “we’re not what they usually eat. We don’t look like a tuna and we don’t taste like a tuna.”
The biggest creature Mann has encountered was a blue whale in the waters off Timor-Leste near Indonesia.
“I saw the whale approaching from a distance. It was so enormous. I just waited and it swam right under me. I could feel the water move. I could feel its energy. I felt so tiny and so insignificant. I’m not even sure he was aware of me. That’s how small I was compared to him.”
One of the smallest creatures Mann has captured with his camera is the pigmy sea horse.
“They are a little more curious. I’ve found that the smaller sea creatures are the ones that will try to chase you. They want to know what you are. The bigger ones just don’t care.”
Mann has also spent as much time as he can documenting polar bears.
“They are incredibly beautiful creatures. It pains me a great deal to imagine a world without them. If my photographs can make people care about them, I am doing my job. I want my photographs to create empathy. I want people who see them to have an emotional response.”
Mann says his appearance at the Jack Singer Hall will not be a lecture.
“I consider my talk not so much about my adventures, but about my misadventures. I want it to be light and enjoyable.”
Mann speaks on Sunday at 2 p.m. and Monday at 7 p.m.