In this latest article in The Guide, DPG’s Photo Editor Lia Barrett talks to freediver Lucas Handley about developing a respect for the marine environment, learning from traditional cultures, and making a film with whales…
It is probably fair to say that Lucas Handley is the embodiment of that handsome, rugged Aussie figure that one thinks only exists on television. Perhaps a somewhat shallow depiction would be a cross between Hugh Jackman and the Crocodile Hunter—Lucas’ looks are more Hugh; his passion for adventure and nature channel those of the late Mr. Irwin. For this Byron Bay native spears his own food, surfs the local waves, models, and oh, is also a marine biologist and philanthropist.
So while you’re in the process of wanting to hate him, let me urge you to strip away those preconceived notions, and get to know the guy behind the mask: the very talented, intelligent conservationist who uses his exposure and the camera for the betterment of the environment and of the people who depend upon the land for their survival.
DPG: If there is anyone in this world who could tastefully combine humpback whales, island life and a luxury car brand within the same sequence, it’s you. What was it like filming this beautifully crafted commercial?
Lucas Handley: I was really excited when I first started discussing the theme of what we were trying to accomplish with the producer, Hadassa Haack. We wanted to do something captivating, and I was pretty intent on finding a way to break down the barriers most people have with feeling a part of their environment. So after chatting about ways to tell the story, we decided the common link of body language was the best way to create this involvement.
Living off the land on the islands around the South Pacific taught me how important body language is underwater. Certainly it is a communication that we have, regardless of our intention to use it or not. The animals react to our presence and perceive our intent by the way we swim, posture ourselves, or react to their movements. It works with sharks, but I had never tested this with whales. I had no idea how they were going to behave.
After rolling around on the surface for a few minutes, this playful calf decided to show off his bubble-blowing skills
“Whales in Space”: An unreal perspective
DPG: How do you manage to combine all of your multiple talents and passions?
LH: When people leave school, they are often asked the question, What do you want to be? And I guess I avoided answering it, because for me the answer to my path in life wasn’t about what I wanted to “be” but rather, what I wanted to achieve. What I wanted to achieve was to create a shift in the way we as a society related to our environment. Creating inspiring films about the science and cultures of our oceans was a good way to start doing that. Obviously, you need to have some fun in the ocean while you’re doing that too, so spending as much time immersed in it helped to polish the other crafts!
“A Beautiful Descent”: As the eons pass and volcanism and corals both win and lose their battles, the flooded canyons emerge, full of life and waiting to be explored
DPG: You grew up in Byron Bay, Australia, where an ocean sensibility seems to be sewn into the skin of the locals.
LH: Byron Bay actually used to be a whaling town, and my grandfather tells stories of watching big sharks biting chunks out of the carcasses as they were winched onto the jetties. So while being very ocean orientated, it is also a town that has seen a lot of change—both in perspective, and the way we use our oceans. I think I was really fortunate to grow up where I did. The area at that time was typified by different ways of living and different ways of thinking, and my parents really encouraged the ability to have an open mind and accept all of those differences. So while the current philosophy toward the ocean is one of leisure and conservation, there is an understanding that within the community there are people who don’t have the same point of view.
“The Wreck of the Tao from –30”: A ship is reborn
DPG: Over the past few years, you have spent a lot of time on island nations around the South Pacific. From living among the locals, spearing your own food, and learning about tribal life, what are some valuable skills and life lessons you have learned from the lifestyle as well as the people?
LH: The cultures I have been fortunate enough to have spent time with have an incredible connection to their environment. They live with the seasons and they understand the movements and population dynamics of the animals they share their environment with. There is no disconnect where humans are seen to be separate from their surroundings. We are seen as part of the ecosystem.
Where I saw people living as part of their environment rather than removed from it, or living on top of it, there was a greater understanding and respect for how they affected it, and how it provided for them. There was a personal connection and responsibility to the rest of the people in the community and also to the country. There was a great understanding that leaving for tomorrow was just as important, if not more important than, taking for today.
“Village Girl by the River”
DPG: You are great in front of the camera, but dabble behind the camera a bit as well. What do you hope to achieve by combining media with your ocean passions?
LH: I believe we have a responsibility to act with our best knowledge, not to make things worse for the generations to come. I remember being asked once, “Why should we protect our oceans?” and my answer was not just to give my very limited opinion, but instead to get a camera and film, so that everything and everyone that lives in that ocean can provide an answer.
After taking photos of the kids underwater, they all wanted to see themselves in the photo, so crowding around they peered over my shoulder. I took the opportunity to go for a swim underwater and they hung on. They are so natural underwater, which really shows in this “underwater selfie”
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