Black and White: The Visual Poetry of the Sea


 Photographer Christian Vizl suspends marine life in time and space, taking us on a poetic journey down beneath the surface. 



The facts are there: our oceans are polluted, overfished, warmed, acidified, and overly-noisy, but not every story we tell has to portray this doom and gloom. The ocean is a fascinating, magical, and curious place, a place that covers 71 percent of our planet and of which we have only explored less than 5 percent. This big, blue, beautiful mystery needs our help, yet in order to protect it, we must first connect to it. 

Christian Vizl's monochrome underwater images allow us to take a dive below the surface and feel something for the 71 percent, connecting us to a world inaccessible to many, but necessary to our survival here on earth. Inspiring and encouraging, Vizl’s images bridge the gap between the marine life in trouble and us humans who can change that.

We asked the Mexico-based underwater photographer about his passion, style, and theories, and how they all come together to accomplish his ultimate goal: protecting our oceans.


Why underwater photography? Ever since I was a kid, as far as I can remember, I was attracted to the sea. I would dream about what lies beneath the waves. I would imagine what it would look like if suddenly all the water disappeared for a while, but all the animals and living creatures remained at the same place they where, so I could then take a walk inside the ocean and see them all suspended for a moment in time and space. I still have that same dream, and I am very grateful that now I am able to live it every time I go down to the sea. I see my pictures and realize they are the result of that childhood dream—beautiful and incredible marine life suspended in their natural environment and captured in a brief moment of time.

How did you get into underwater photography? I have been diving since 1994 and became an instructor in ‘97, but I only began taking underwater pictures in 2009 when a friend of mine lent me his underwater camera for a dive in Belize. It was an amazing new experience for me, and a year later I bought my first underwater camera….

Is there a reason you choose to shoot in black and white? I have always loved black and white images. My first rolls as a boy were always monochrome and I would develop them in my bathroom. Photography is all about light—in my opinion, light is the single most important aspect when it comes to creating appealing, inspiring and touching images. 

In my view, far beyond technical issues, what’s most important is how I apply and manipulate the light that’s available in order to create pictures with dramatic effect, pictures that carry depths of emotion with contrasts and tonalities as means to emphasize form and structure of the scenery.

I focus on the emotional impact, the ability of the final shot to connect with people on a deeper level. Just as a poet uses words to create poetry, a photographer uses light to create images. So when I’m underwater taking pictures, one of my goals is to create poetic images through the use of light. I find that the best way to achieve this is through black and white.

What inspires your work? What do you find most exciting about it? I try to capture sublime moments of the marine environment, the essence of being there, and the splendour and soul of a particular animal. It’s the poetry of these types of images that inspire and make us vibrate with the beauty in every corner of the ocean; provide us with an epic sight that make us dream of a better world, where we value, care for, and celebrate all expressions of life because beyond the issue of our survival is the matter of how we experience our life and how we celebrate it. 

Our experience of life is intrinsically linked to how we communicate and bond with everything around us, especially with all life around us. In my case, it’s the oceans and their living creatures that make me want to celebrate, so my photography is intended to be a celebration of marine life and the underwater world.

As a photographer, do you feel a responsibility to contribute to the conservation of our oceans? Yes definitely! I receive so much from the ocean that especially in today's world, where we humans are threatening all life on it, I believe we all share a responsibility in conservation. In my case, I cannot think of a better use of my images or a higher purpose. In fact, I ask myself every day what more I could do to help protect the world's oceans.

What message are you are trying to send? We all have seen devastating images of animals dying in the ocean, and I’m glad those images have reached so many people. It’s crucial that we become aware of that very sad reality, but in my case, I have chosen to send a different message, one of beauty and love for the ocean and all it’s living animals. I believe that if you feel a connection to any animal, then you will try to protect it. I’m trying to be a voice of the ocean and for the ocean.

Favorite dive site? Mmm... that’s very hard to answer. Every place has something unique, but I do love going to the open ocean, miles away from the coast. Sometimes the surprises are just incredible.

Favorite sea creature? Again very hard to answer. Octopuses, dolphins, and sea lions are all very fun to be around.

Have you witnessed ocean plastic while working? If so, how has it affected you? Yes of course, actually in every single dive. It affects me in many ways, especially when animals are suffering because of plastic. It’s heartbreaking to see first hand any animal entangled or dead because of plastic, or even just to see floating debris. They’re are all over! We need to find a way to make this madness stop, and soon.

Our Parley A.I.R. Strategy (Avoid, Intercept, Redesign) approaches long-term solutions to ocean plastic through eco innovation. How do you implement A.I.R? That’s a fantastic strategy and it needs to be followed thoroughly. Personally, I have taken action in the first two initiatives; avoid and intercept. Every day I avoid using virgin plastic. I have reusable cups for my coffee and water needs and transport my groceries in reusable bags. I intercept when I am on the beach or near the ocean by cleaning up all the plastic I can. I also support friends of mine who run a campaign in La Paz, México to disentangle sea lions from plastic and nets.

Are you optimistic about the future of our oceans? What kind of change are you hoping for? I’m a realist, so it's hard to be optimistic these days with all the evidence of the amount of destruction, pollution, contamination, radiation, overfishing, and over-warming that we have infringed on the ocean. We humans are blinded by greed and are following a path of self-destruction. We need to become more aware and to let go of our ego as individuals and as a species. We need to redesign the way we live our lives on this planet and our relationship with earth and the rest of the living creatures. But these changes need time, so in the meantime I believe creating protected marine areas can give the ocean a break, and we need to start cleaning up our garbage!


Ixtapa, Guerrero, México. A dolphin fish swimming near some floating debris about 3 miles off the coast.

Palm Beach

Ana Cecilia wreck, Palm Beach, USA. A Goliath Grouper near the wreck, one of the hundreds of magnificent animals that gather in these waters every year for spawning.


Cancun, México. A spotted eagle ray swimming near a wreck, where they like to glide in the currents.


Quintana Roo, Playa del Carmen, México. Portrait of a bull shark with fishes around her some 80 ft deep in a sandy bottom.


Xcalak, Quintana Roo, México. A manatee with remoras swimming above a coral reef.


Ixtapa, Guerrero, México. Two silky sharks swimming among a school of fish at open ocean, some 10 miles off the coast.

Ixtapa, Guerrero, México. Half-and-half image of a sea turtle swimming beneath the waves with a cloudy sky some 10 miles off the coast.


Ixtapa, Guerrero, México. A family of wild dolphins swimming beneath the waves some 10 miles off the coast.


Puerto Morelos, Quintana Roo, México. Three spotted eagle rays swimming near a sandy bottom some 80 ft. close to a shipwreck site.


Interviewed by Lindsay Gordon



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