On the Shoulders of Giants: Vincent Kneefel underwater photographer and ocean advocate speaks with SOS

31.01.2017

What drives a business strategy consultant to spend four years traversing the Caribbean searching for its iconic marine species?

Hammerhead Shark, Caribbean
Credits : Vincent Kneefel

For Vincent Kneefel, the active support of his employer Accenture as he worked to realise his photographic project – the Giants of the Caribbean book – was symbolic of the role global business can play in protecting our world’s natural heritage.

   

What was the inspiration for Giants of the Caribbean?

“The idea for Giants germinated in April 2010 when the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico took place. I had become interested in conservation as a younger man having witnessed some of the serious threats that endanger ocean life while working as a dive guide and I realised in 2011 it was time to help”.

 

Can you describe the creative process in creating the book?

“I wanted to find a way to get people to care about the inhabitants of the ocean impacted by the oil spill. So, I decided on photographing nine iconic marine species assessed by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™, embarking on a series of journeys across the Caribbean partnering with local NGOs and guides to find them. To guide my photography I wanted to learn more about the ongoing conservation efforts and the relationships of local communities with these animals in particular. These would be the ambassadors for all Caribbean marine life.

The IUCN Red List indicators appear prominently in the book because I think it is extremely important for people to know and to understand what the Red List is and how they can take action based on it. My hope is that more people will start to take action when they see conservation efforts pay off.

 

What technical challenges did you encounter photographing underwater wildlife?

When doing an underwater shoot you have to really immerse yourself in the environment and be ready - some encounters are brief as is the case with Hammerhead sharks. Getting close to animals like Humpback whales without intruding can sometimes be a challenge, as you have to wait for the animal to come to you. Using a very wide angle lens such as a fisheye lens helped in certain circumstances. The creativity really comes in the moment as there are so many things that can change so it is difficult to plan something in advance. Tapping into expert species knowledge was a key aspect of the process”.

 

Conservation and commerce: conflict or complementary?

“The book was sponsored by Accenture. Through our internal portal my photos reached the global Accenture team - more than 350,000 employees. The company also commissioned my book as a gift for the annual Winter Concert in Amsterdam, where we had over 300 clients from senior executive management positions in global companies attending. 

The largest 200 corporations are now greater than the combined economies of nearly 180 countries. These companies employ just a few million people but they can guide governments and have more economic influence than 80% of humanity. The conservation community needs to find ways to leverage this.

 

How can we connect conservation with commerce?

Too often people don’t make a connection between their daily work and the impact it is having on our planet, simply because they have so little exposure to nature through their daily work. We need to engage employees en-masse to create change.

We have already demonstrated a link between sustainability efforts and long-term profits. There are a lot of examples out there like Unilever, Puma, Interface, The Body Shop and many others.

As such we need the conservation and business communities to become more integrated because the business world’s greatest power is its ability to reach and engage a global customer base. Change does not only happen top down, but also bottom up!”

 

NOTE: All photographs in this article copyright © Vincent Kneefel.

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