By patiently navigating untamed environments, Matt Draper seeks to better understand each individual species he interacts with. Working with a manual focus rangefinder, with exclusively natural light and in a series of single breaths, he manoeuvres his way from concept to creation with minimal disturbance. Draper’s art breaks down the barriers between human and animal, merging realms and revealing the distinct characteristics of unfamiliar physicality and hidden intuitive behaviours — resulting in a dynamic balance of vastness and intimacy.
A Matt Draper fine art print is unique and exclusive, belonging to a signature body of work. Each print is released in a limited edition, individually numbered, and accompanied by a certificate of authenticity. Draper is receiving notable recognition and expanding his audience, partnering with distinguished scientists to convey the importance of our natural world through art and science. Draper’s work is part of renowned private collections, with most editions being sold before they are publicly viewed or displayed.
Please describe your first steps into photography. What came first, your passion for free diving or your passion for photography?
I have spent quality time in and around the ocean from an incredibly young age, as well as behind the lens of various cameras; but it was not until much later in my life that I paired both disciplines to create the art I am now known for. Both are obviously important facets of my life, but my strong interest in creative photography was always very much present.
What influences have had the biggest impact on your visual language?
Photojournalism, and especially portraiture, are unique in the sense that the right image can evoke a strong emotion, while also conveying and telling a story. I strive to create a singular focus, where the viewer is visually engaged yet often left wondering. A lot of my creative consciousness is drawn from my own feelings; and although my influences are board and wide, it is those true to their own style – such as Jacob Aue Sobol who excels in the categories first mentioned –, who push me to maintain my own.
What are the biggest difficulties when photographing under water? What is the most important thing to consider?
First and foremost, the safety of myself and of the wild animal. At times, I can be surrounded by numerous creatures each exceeding 40 tones, or by those that many consider man eaters. It is paramount that I am aware, and that I have assessed any risks associated with the dive. As all of my art is created in a single breath and in natural light, I am – technically speaking – almost always challenged by immense difficulties.
Where do you take the pictures? Do you have a favourite place for capturing pictures of whales, sharks and other sea creatures?
The humpback whales were captured in Vava’u, Kingdom of Tonga, and the Great White Shark in South Australia.
How important are the weather conditions?
I enjoy working in conditions many do not. Using long exposures, focusing on black backgrounds and high contrasts, means that low light is my close friend. In my new series, Incognito, I have introduced colour. This has been a learning curve as I better understand how to illuminate my subjects.
Could you explain the advantages of free diving compared to regular diving – especially when it comes to taking pictures?
Free diving is a minimalistic and ‘purest’ approach. Without cumbersome equipment such as oxygen tanks or artificial lighting, I am free to move with fluidity. One absolute advantage is the minimal disturbance to the animals. Also, floating on the surface gives me a bird’s eye view of the underwater world, so that I can time each descent precisely.
What equipment did you use and how did you modify it to make it work under water?
I use the Leica M10, 35mm Summilux ASPH f/1.4 and have recently added the 50mm APO Summicron ASPH f/2. It is, quite possibly, the first time this arrangement has been used underwater.
Please tell us about your special underwater housing. Did you request it specifically? How did your collaboration with submarine engineers come about?
I am working closely with a submarine company called DOER marine, to create a housing for the M10 that is fully functional. We have created two usable prototypes, and now we’re onto the final design.
Do you use any filters? How much time do you spend on post-processing?
I do not use filters. I try to get as much as I can right in camera, while limiting my post-processing.
Matt Draper travels the oceans of the world to bring his creative vision into existence. He spends countless hours in the water, learning to better understand each individual species he interacts with. By meticulously studying and patiently moving through each untamed environment, Draper’s photography reveals distinct characteristics and hidden intuitive behaviours. Self-taught, Draper prides himself on only using natural light. This, combined with his free diving capabilities, makes for minimal disturbance when observing marine life. Find out more about his photography on his website and Instagram.