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Four photographers win unusual prizes

Unusual prizes
Two male and a female lined seahorse feed on plankton by night in the Bahamas (Shane Gross)
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Nurse sharks mating in shallow water in the Bahamas (Shane Gross)
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Pink salmon migrate upriver to spawn in Campbell River, Vancouver Island, Canada (Shane Gross)

The pictures above were taken by Canadian underwater photographer Shane Gross, one of four winners of the Save Our Seas Foundation (SOSF)’s Ocean Storytelling Photography Grant 2021 – and now looking forward to an out-of-the-ordinary reward. 

The competition is “dedicated to finding and supporting a new and diverse generation of conservation storytellers” and Gross, Acacia Johnson, Gabriella Angotti-Jones and Sarang Naik will each be given a paid three-week photographic assignment to document the story of a particular SOSF-supported marine research or conservation project. 

The foundation has funded 400-plus such projects in more than 85 countries. “While we look specifically for photographers who can tell conservation stories about our oceans, the grant is not limited to underwater photography,” says SOSF. 

The initiative is led by SOSF’s director of storytelling and National Geographic photographer Thomas Peschak, in collaboration with Kathy Moran (former natural history editor) and Jennifer Samuel (photo editor) from National Geographic. The judges reviewed 152 applications from around the world and narrowed them down to a shortlist of 11.

Each winner’s story will be published as a photo essay, and they get the chance to showcase their work at an international conference or exhibition, travel expenses included. There is also a US $2,000 cash prize, and the judges will be available to mentor the winners throughout the process.

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Shane Gross
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Acacia Johnson
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Gabriella Angotti-Jones
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Sarang Naik

“A single photograph has the power to capture attention and in an instant shift what we feel, but if that image is part of a larger story, the potential for real impact is even greater,” says Peschak. “A well thought-out visual narrative of multiple photographs not only invites a deeper understanding of the world around us, but can also inspire concrete behavioural changes.”

“All four of our winners are simply outstanding – their striking imagery oozes narrative and demands attention,” commented the foundation’s CEO James Lea. “It is a wonderful mix of emerging talent and world-leading mentors, and I can’t wait to see it all come together.”

Shane Gross, from British Columbia, prompted Moran to say that “he’s completely committed to this kind of storytelling”, while Samuel added: “I can see that he’s always trying new approaches and techniques to make his images stand out.”

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Walrus skull among wildflowers on Round Island, Alaska (Acacia Johnson)

Of Acacia Johnson (Alaska, USA), Samuel said: “I just love the way she sees, I love the way she thinks. I think she ticks all the boxes as someone who is committed to the craft of storytelling.”

Peschak said of Angotti-Jones (California, USA): “When you look at Gabriella’s work, you can just feel her creativity bubble over from every image. Her images are sometimes whimsical yet always thoughtful and consistently on point in terms of narrative. I was curious and engaged from the first to the last photograph. A much-needed fresh visual perspective that examines our relationship with the ocean.”

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(Gabriella Angotti-Jones)
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Honeycomb moray eel seen stranded on a rock (and later safely released) in Mumbai (Sarang Naik)

“Many people consider rocky shores and other intertidal habitats to be dull and drab, especially compared to the coral reefs that inspire and draw in countless photographers,” said Moran. However, she reckoned that the work of winner Sarang Naik (Mumbai, India) “clearly shows that this could not be further from the truth. 

“His images of rocky shores teeming with biodiversity that border the megacity of Mumbai could not be more surprising and original. He followed his passion and placed the fate of his career on an underdog marine ecosystem. Now his unusual photographs showcase the unique biodiversity and beauty of India’s intertidal shores to the world.”

Among the 11 commended shortlisted entrants was the UK’s Henley Spiers, much of whose underwater photography can be found on Divernet. “You could look at any one of Henley’s pictures all day long,” commented Moran. “You’d want to stick them on the wall.”

Find more on the winners and shortlisted entrants at Save Our Seas Foundation.

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