Larger than Life

Over time, whale photographer Bryant Austin gained the trust of massive mammals

Text by Brigitte Rec | Photography by Bryant Austin

Photographer Bryant Austin has been known to hover motionless for hours at a time in the crystal blue waters of the South Pacific, Great Barrier Reef and the West Indies. Applauded for his larger-than-life work, Austin has transformed underwater photography into art that captures deep emotions, colors and mysteries that few photographers have been able to depict. Many of Austin’s photographs (measuring 12 to 36 feet long) are on display at Focus Gallery in Chatham, where beach lovers can acquaint themselves with the mysterious ocean creatures featured in his work.

Traveling around the globe with his 50-megapixel Hasselblad camera in hand, Austin was first inspired to take photos of whales when he was tapped on the shoulder by a female humpback in the South Pacific, whose calf he had been photographing moments before. Understanding the territorial instincts of the creatures, Austin remained calm as the massive mammal grazed past him and made eye contact. After the encounter, Austin was motivated to share this calm and intimate moment with the community. In his book “Beautiful Whale,” he writes, “I want to broaden and deepen our perceptions of them, alter our behaviors that degrade their environment.” After four years of patiently gaining the trust of whales around him, Austin concluded his project with magnificent, large-scale photographs that have been featured in museums and shows in Japan, Norway, Australia and now Chatham.

Bryant created a bond and an understanding with the mammals. Swimming with whales that measured 90 feet long and weighed up to 200 tons, Austin writes, “The closer I can be to whales, the more ‘real’ they become.”

Focus Gallery owner Cindy Vallino says she established a working relationship with Austin after he found a Boston company that provided the necessary machinery to print and ship his massive artwork. Bryant’s decision to show his work in Chatham was twofold: The town was a popular destination and Focus Gallery could provide the extensive wall space needed to show his collection. Austin sets aside time, usually during Labor Day weekend, to travel from California to visit the gallery and enjoy some of Chatham’s charm. He also visited the gallery earlier this summer to talk about his experiences and sign copies of his book.

Though we rarely encounter whales during a trip to the beach or a boat ride on the open water, humans have shared the planet with them for 200,000 years. Austin’s work at Focus gives the public a glimpse into the life of these unforgettable creatures.

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Focus Gallery
595 Main St., Chatham
508-348-1493
“Beautiful Whale,” by Bryant Austin (Harry N. Abrams), $55

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