Interview with Francesco Visintin, photographer and international underwater photography champion.

1- Loren Eiseley (American anthropologist, philosopher and lecturer) wrote 'If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water': is that so? Is water, the sea, magic? What lies beneath the surface of the water?

The quoted sentence perfectly captures the importance and beauty of water. Water is essential for life and has a power that can safely be described as magical. The sea in particular has always conveyed a sense of wonder and adventure to humans, hiding a world unknown to most people beneath its surface. The underwater world is populated by a variety of creatures and extraordinary landscapes. So yes, I agree: water, in all its forms, is truly magical, essential for life and helps us connect with the beauty and nature of our planet.

Sea lions (Zalophus californianus). La Paz, Baja California Sur, Mexico.

2- What emotions does photographing underwater give you?

From a very young age, and well before I became a diver and underwater photographer, my connection with the sea and the organisms that inhabit it has been deep and intimate.

Photographing underwater, but also simply 'in the water' always gives me an exciting and unique experience. The feeling of immersing oneself in water, in the absence of gravity and in a silent world where one can only hear one's own breath, surrounded by a vastness of colours and shapes, transports me to another universe.

Capturing the essence of this underwater world allows me to continue to experience these emotions once back home, reviewing the images I have taken on my computer and sharing the beauty and fragility of aquatic ecosystems with others.

Jellyfish lung. (Rhizostoma pulmo). Forte dei Marmi (LU), Italy

3- The marine environment, and the aquatic environment in general, is a world we perceive as silent, far from the noises we are used to; but does aquatic fauna speak to us?

The underwater marine environment is essentially silent, a silence broken by faint natural sounds, such as the rustling of waves, the squeaking of shells and the sound of our breathing. However, this silence does not correspond to an absence of communication: the aquatic fauna speaks in its own surprising way, although not through the verbal language we are used to understanding. Marine creatures communicate with each other using a variety of visual, tactile and acoustic signals. Fish, for example, may use body and fin movements to communicate with each other, and some species produce distinctive sounds to call out to mates or signal their presence even though they are hardly perceptible to the diver. In contrast, marine mammals, such as whales and dolphins, are known for their complex communication. They emit a wide range of sounds, from melodious whale songs to series of whistles and clicks to coordinate group movement and communicate with each other.

Sepiola. Argentario (GR), Italy

4- Where do you love to photograph?

Although I used to love travelling to exotic places, I now prefer diving and photography close to home. This choice is not only dictated by practical necessity, but also by my personal preference. Photographing at km 0 (e.g. in western Liguria, Argentario Promontory and the Tuscan Archipelago) allows me to return several times to well-known places and to the subjects I love, spending a lot of time with them. I can wait for optimal environmental and light conditions and devote as much time to the subject as I want, giving creativity and imagination room to express itself freely. This allows me to create original images, which is not always possible when travelling thousands of kilometres from home and having to dive with guides and groups of divers.

Finally, photographing at km 0 greatly reduces my impact on the environment, especially in terms of CO2 emissions. The mission of the nature photographer is also to promote environmental protection, and for the message to be effective, I believe that it is essential to act in a conscious and consistent way with one's values. Reducing the distance of my travels to photograph allows me to minimise my impact on the environment in which I work. Therefore, in addition to offering more creative opportunities and a closer connection with the subjects I photograph, choosing to photograph at km 0 is also a form of commitment to the environment.

The satelite. (Sea lung-Rhizostoma pulmo). Forte dei Marmi, (LU), Italy. With this photo Francesco won one of the world's most prestigious photographic competitions, theOcean Art Underwater Photo Competition. It was published in the BBC Wildlife Magazine and in the Italian edition of Vanity Fair Magazine.

5- Convey beauty, raise awareness, instil love for these creatures: this means respect. In one of your interviews you quoted a slogan: 'You protect what you love, you love what you know'. What can photography, and particularly in your case underwater photography, do for the environment?

I am convinced that nature photography in general, and underwater photography in my case, plays an important role in raising people's awareness of environmental protection. Through my images I try to capture the beauty and fragility of underwater ecosystems, showing the public what would not only otherwise be invisible to most people, but which they would not even suspect exists, arousing awe and wonder in many cases.

Underwater photography has the power to stir emotions and connect people with the aquatic world. Through my photos, I try to create an emotional connection between viewers and marine environments, encouraging them to admire, appreciate and, ultimately I hope, support their protection.

Images can indeed be a formidable tool to help spread awareness and information about endangered species, protected areas and sustainable practices we can adopt to preserve our seas. My images have also been used for scientific research purposes, documenting rare marine species or the presence of certain species in certain places where they were undocumented, and for conservation or science outreach projects.

Apuan newt. Apuan Alps, (MS), Italy.

6- How important are marine protected areas (MPAs)?

Marine protected areas are of fundamental importance for the conservation of marine ecosystems and the protection of biodiversity. As an underwater photographer, I have had the good fortune to explore several of them, in Italy and abroad, and have been able to see for myself their positive impact

These areas are spaces, more or less extensive, where fishing and human activities are regulated or even banned, allowing marine ecosystems to regenerate and species to reproduce safely. These protected areas act as refuges for animals, allowing the conservation of endangered species and the protection of critical habitats such as coral reefs or 'our' posidonia meadows and kelp forests. MPAs therefore play a key role in repairing and restoring ecosystems damaged by pollution, anthropisation, overfishing and ongoing climate change. It should be added that the benefits of MPAs extend well beyond the 'boundaries' of the park, as even quite extensive neighbouring areas benefit from the 'repopulation' of fish species that occurs within the protected area.

Last but not least, MPAs offer sustainable ecotourism opportunities, contributing to the development of local communities and raising people's awareness of the importance of marine conservation. Promoting these areas and spreading awareness about their benefits is essential to protect our oceans and ensure a sustainable future for future generations.

Lake Cornino, Cornino Lake Regional Nature Reserve, Italy.

7- Of all the declination of photography, why did you choose underwater photography?

Although I practice and love other genres of photography, underwater photography actually holds a special and privileged place. This is probably because it allows me to combine two great passions: that for photography itself and that for underwater environments.

Moreover, what fascinates me most about underwater photography is the possibility of practising it in solitude, in the absence of gravity and in a silent environment. When I dive, I also 'immerse' myself in the beauty and tranquillity of the seas, lakes or rivers. It is a deeply relaxing experience that helps me free my mind and express my creativity in unique ways.

Gills in the dark. Salamander larva in a pool of water, Apennines, Italy.

8- For boaters, whether they do it professionally or for pleasure, the sea and sailing represent a passion. What is a passion for you?

Passion for me is an interest or an activity to which I voluntarily dedicate myself because I enjoy it and it makes me feel fulfilled. Passion is something that makes me lose track of time and ignore adversity. Pursuing this passion requires dedication, patience and perseverance and it is not always easy because the sea conditions can be challenging (rough seas, currents, poor visibility, intense cold) but every time I dive, I feel a sense of freedom and wonder that makes me forget any discomfort and stay focused on photography.

Peacock thrush (Symphodus tinca). Tino Island, (LP), Italy.

9- Is it possible to take good photos even in our seas without expensive equipment? What do you recommend to sailing enthusiasts to dive and emerge with a beautiful memory of the marine environment?

Absolutely! There are affordable waterproof or compact underwater cameras with polycarbonate housings on the market. However, one needs to be aware of their limitations and use them in situations that allow one to exploit their full potential (shallow water, shooting in the middle of the day and with the sun behind one's back to make the most of the light). Recently, more or less sophisticated underwater housings for smartphones have appeared on the market that also allow us to exploit the formidable cameras of our mobile phones underwater. The good image quality, versatility, accessibility and ease of use have led the FIPSAS (Italian Federation of Sport Fishing and Underwater Activities) to include the 'smartphone' category in the selective competitions and the Italian Underwater Photography Championship.

10-"My octopus teacher": have you seen this documentary? Watching this extraordinary and evocative work made us realise that always diving in the same place can lead to relationships with marine animals. Apart from giving you the opportunity to take beautiful photos, what does this technique convey to you?

Of course! I saw the series and was fascinated by it. I had read articles about the intelligence of these cephalopods, but never would I have imagined that a person could make a connection and a relationship like the one narrated by the series

In addition to the 'photographic' advantages we have mentioned, diving always in the same place has allowed me, over the years, to familiarise myself with the environment, the species that inhabit it and their behaviour, to observe how it varies with the changing seasons and over the long term. Returning to the same dive sites year after year has allowed me to appreciate the resilience of nature, capable, after serious offences perpetrated by man or exceptional natural events, of regenerating itself. In the Portovenere park, I have seen entire, splendid, walls of gorgonians die due to an unusually hot summer and flourish again, very slowly, until they return to their original splendour; I have seen dens of fish preyed upon by fishermen repopulate within a few years. This makes me quite optimistic about the future of our seas, as all it would take is a little more respect and awareness in our behaviour to enable nature to regenerate itself in an almost miraculous way.

Francesco Visintin, is a photographer and international underwater photography champion.

In extemporaneous competitions, Francesco Visintin won three Italian underwater photography championships (2010 individual, 2011 and 2022 for clubs) and achieved numerous placings. With the Italian national underwater photography team, he took part in 2 Fotosub World Championships (Turkey 2011 and Mexico 2017) and one European Championship (Spain 2106, silver medal fish category). He has been awarded in all the major Italian (Underwater Venice, Città di Faenza, Acquario Civico DI Milano, Neapolis, See in the Sea, Blucobalto and many others) and international (GDT-european wildlife photographer of the year Germany , Asferico Italy , Golden Turtle Moscow, Golden Dolphin Moscow, FSMISM, Festival Mondial de l'image Sous-Marine France, BSOUP competition-British Society of Underwater Photography UK, Ocean Art Competition USA, Festisub Switzerland, Paf Tachov Czech Republic Vodan Slovenia and others).

His images have been published in trade magazines (Sub, il Subacqueo, AQVA etc.), FotoCULT, the Italian edition of National Geographic and Vanity Fair, BBC Wildlife Magazine, EZDIVE (Taiwan) Radarmagazine (online) and others.

You can learn about Francesco Visitin's extraordinary work through his social channels

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