For over eight years, the photographer Alex Voyer has been sailing the seven seas in search of beautiful subjects: the sperm whale, the great white shark, the leopard seal… He makes subtle, elegant underwater portraits of marine fauna, freediving as deep as 30 meters.
If you want to have coffee with Alex Voyer, you need to be patient. Always on the move, he never stays in Paris for too long. You might run into him in town one August morning, but the next day he will already be in Mexico fixing up the sailboat which will be his home for the better part of the year, shared with his partner, Marianne, who helps organize his photographic work.
The whole adventure really began in 2011. While working as a sound engineer on a documentary on freediving, he asked the director to lend him his equipment, that is an SLR and a diving bell, worth some 10,000 euros, which he then took to the Indian Ocean to watch sperm whales. It was a revelation. “I said to myself, I must do something with this loaned equipment. I had no background in photography but, all of a sudden, things just started coming together,” he said. A few photographs were enough to whet his appetite. Plus, his partner, who’s a vegetarian, didn’t like Alex coming back with dead fish hanging off his weight belt, as he had always done. “I went from being an underwater hunter to a photographer.”
“A enormous predator”
His new passion rapidly took off. When his friend Fred Buyle traveled to Guadalupe in Mexico to swim with great white sharks, Alex agreed to join the team. “Initially, before jumping into the water, a part of you is always reluctant to go in, your mind is replaying scenes from the Jaws, which is of little comfort…,” admits the forty-year-old, “but once you’re in the water, your fear quickly dissipates. Water acts as a sort of filter. Everything slows down. And then you begin to enjoy yourself immensely…”
It’s with good reason that Alex Voyer is proud of being the only person in the world, along with his friend Fred Buyle, who has been authorized by the Mexican government to swim with the great white sharks in an effort to help a team of Mexican scientists. There was a time that this privilege was abused. “People did whatever they wanted, put themselves in danger: after all, the animal weighs 1.5 tons, it’s an enormous predator…,” Alex noted. Diving without any equipment makes it easier to get closer to these giants of the sea. Just like cetaceans, having no oxygen tank on your back gives you greater flexibility in the water and enables closer contact with the animals. On top of that, Alex is able to hold breath for four minutes. “Not too bad for a Parisian diver,” he observes jokingly.
Penguins and leopard seals
“In 2015 we went to the Indian Ocean, Marianne and I,” says Alex. “We saw a mother sperm whale with a calf. After a short while, the mother had gone, leaving us with her young. Just a baby, it was still eight to nine meters long… We spent an hour and a half playing with it in the water. It would dive and then come back up again, knocking against the palms of our hands with its nose. It was an incredible experience…” Moments like this are engraved in the memory of this explorer who has no shortage of stories to tell. In 2013, he traveled to the Antarctic for the first time. “The journey of a lifetime,” he called it. He would spend two to three hours in freezing water tracking penguins and leopard seals. Two months later, after he had posted his images on the web, a British production company called him up and offered him the job of a cameraman on a big-budget documentary: he would film penguins underwater so as to get closer to them. Just what he was waiting for! He boarded a plane for the Antarctic where he would stay over 45 days in the company of some of the biggest names in animal photography.
The Canal de l’Ourcq
Alex Voyer is able to find adventure anywhere. “You can have adventures right in your own backyard,” he remarked as he described the year he had spent swimming every day in the Canal de l’Ourcq in Paris. He still swims in it quite often and swears it’s perfectly safe. “It’s very clean. In any case, there is a swimming pool there now, and it’s inspected regularly.” This summer he went swimming in the Marne with his partner. It’s important to him to emphasize that you don’t need to go around the world to discover new horizons. More than anything, he wants to show that everyone has their own place in nature. “If there is one message I would like to get across, this is it”: showing humans underwater interacting with marine life; and making us marvel at the ocean he loves so much.
By Jean-Baptiste Gauvin