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An Interview with Award-winning photographer and cinematographer, Bob Talbot.

Using Silence and Darkness to Let the Ocean
Speak for Itself


©2006 Bob Talbot
©2006 Bob Talbot


“The idea is to let the ocean speak for itself. When you are out there every day, or even just a few days, of your life, you can’t help but want to wrap your arms around the whole world and say, “you have to see this.” Its what our planet is; we are an ocean planet. To be there, to feel it, it’s hard to imagine how anyone could be party to squander it...”

– Bob Talbot

For Super Bowl advertisers, every second of airtime counts. Isn’t it ironic, then, that a commercial would feature second after second of nothing but a black screen?

If your goal is to raise awareness about threats to the ocean, it’s all part of the plan. SeaWeb, an international non-profit focusing on ocean conservation, teamed up with award-winning marine filmmaker Bob Talbot, a man known for his iconic lithographs of whales and dolphins, as well as his footage for Hollywood blockbusters like Free Willy and numerous IMAX films, to create a Super Bowl spot that’s as shocking as it is stunning. By opening with Talbot’s typically gorgeous cinematography--dazzling dolphins, swaying fan corals, pulsing jellyfish and a magnificent great white shark–before dramatically cutting to black for the final five seconds of the 30 second spot, SeaWeb forces viewers to imagine a life without the ocean.

It’s this “dead air” time that Talbot and SeaWeb President, Dawn M. Martin hope will cause people to pause and think about the ocean, a resource that is being increasingly threatened by over-fishing, wastewater runoff and climate change. “Human beings like to believe what they want to believe. If we [just] give them pretty pictures of the ocean…we too often give them the impression that everything is ok” Talbot warns.

Bay Area residents will be treated to the full commercial during Sunday’s Super Bowl pre-game show on NBC, but as a teaser SeaWeb asked Talbot to explain the thinking and inspiration behind the spot, why people need time for reflection in today’s frenetically-paced society and how beautiful ocean cinematography can actually be a disservice.


©2006 Bob Talbot
©2006 Bob Talbot

SeaWeb: What was the inspiration behind your SeaWeb spot?

Bob Talbot: The idea is to let the ocean speak for itself. When you are out there every day, or even just a few days, of your life, you can’t help but want to wrap your arms around the whole world and say, “you have to see this.” Its what our planet is; we are an ocean planet. To be there, to feel it, it’s hard to imagine how anyone could be party to squander it. The idea of the piece is to take people there, if only for a few moments, and have them feel that through the music and imagery, with the hopes that when we have that abrupt cut to black that they feel the potential loss of what is really life on this planet.

SeaWeb: Companies pay premiums for a :30 spot during the Superbowl, and some may consider a :05 black screen a wasted opportunity. Why the “Cut to Black”?  What is the symbolism behind this shot?

Bob Talbot: I think now with air time being as valuable as it is, and people’s attention span being as short as it is, we really do need the pause. I think that the notion that five seconds of reflection is such a huge deal, says a lot in and of itself. That five seconds of black to reflect on what you have seen; we hardly take 5 frames of black anymore. It used to be that when a program on television ended, you would have a moment of black to reflect and then the credits would roll. Now the credits roll over the end of the show and you go directly into the next show. There is very little time anymore in modern society to reflect on much of anything. If we aren’t watching television we are on our computer, if we aren’t on our computer we are on our mobile device. We are being tweeted, facebooked and commercialed to death. For me, SeaWeb and NBC having the courage to say “stop and think” is fantastic. It gives people an opportunity to a) hopefully get a sense what they are missing and could potentially lose, and b) take a moment to reflect on how we look at things, how when five seconds of our attention isn’t being taken up we freak out, we find that uncomfortable.

©2006 Bob Talbot
©2006 Bob Talbot

SeaWeb: What can viewers take away from your message and how can they share the word?

Bob Talbot: What they can do is go to SeaWeb’s Web site  The site will give them defined actions to take. But it comes down to two things: What we put into the ocean and what we take out of the ocean. What we put into our mouths probably has the greatest effect on what goes in and out of the ocean. When we eat protein from the ocean it obviously has to be extracted somehow, so we have to look at how it’s extracted. Then we have to look at other things we put in our mouths. Any animal protein is much less efficient to produce than vegetable protein. With inefficiency comes waste and most waste ends up in the sea. When you look at agricultural waste that is created by farming animals for food, a lot of that runoff, pesticides and wasted water ends up in the ocean. Everything goes downhill and downhill is the ocean. I am not suggesting that people stop eating fish; I am not suggesting people stop eating animal protein, but we have to look at the real causes of things. When you look at eating lower on the food chain, even half the time, you are going to have a significant effect on the ocean. It’s important that people understand that what they eat outside of the marine environment affects the ocean as well.
©2006 Bob Talbot
©2006 Bob Talbot

SeaWeb: How does your work with photography and videography help amplify the message of ocean conservation?

Bob Talbot: That is kind of a double-edged sword. I was in a round table discussion about ocean conservation some years ago and a woman in the audience said, “you guys are the problem because you make things look too damn good.” I have to tell you, it really struck a chord. [As ocean filmmakers], we look for that perfect frame, that moment and cut out these little jewels that don’t have signposts, roads, erosion, or trash. We pick a school of fish that is a shadow of what used to be there and make it look like something to see. That is a disservice because human beings like to believe what they want to believe. If we give them pretty pictures of the ocean, which we are doing with this piece and we have to be very mindful of, then we too often give them the impression that everything is ok. “I saw a whale on TV the other day, there are still whales around.” “I saw a girl swimming through a school of fish, there were lots of fish there.” It makes it easy for us to not look at the bad. I think, on one hand, it’s a great tool to make people fall in love with the sea, but on the other hand it can do a disservice by giving people a reason to think everything is just fine.


Let us know what you think of the spot on Twitter and Facebook, and help spread the word by sharing the videos with others.

Music: David Hodge, Finger Music

For over twenty years Bob Talbot’s whale and dolphin photograph art, prints and posters have inspired wonder in people around the world. From the first time he ventured into the ocean with a snorkel at age eight, Talbot has been fascinated by the sea and the animals that inhabit it. Since that time he has made it his life’s work to foster a respect for animals and to fight to protect their habitat. He is the recipient of The Environmental Hero Award presented by the United States Department of Commerce as well as the Ark Trust Genesis Award. Talbot is a board member of the American Oceans Campaign, Earth Communications Office, and Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, and works with many other environmental organizations donating images, time, funds and, most importantly, a voice for the planet and its inhabitants.

Capturing marine mammals on film is one of the most difficult disciplines in nature photography. Recording reality, as Talbot does, presents challenges not faced by artists who paint art, prints and posters on canvas. He has no control over his fast-moving and often shy subjects. When photographing at the surface his subjects and the boat are in constant motion, and the direction and quality of light are continuously changing. Of course filming underwater presents its own host of problems. All of which explains why Talbot will often spend weeks or months at sea waiting for all of these elements to come together.

Talbot’s photograph art, prints and posters have been published in magazines such as Audubon, Time, Natural History, American Photographer, National Wildlife, Outdoor Photographer, BBC Wildlife and National Geographic, as well as numerous other publications. A filmmaker as well, Talbot filmed the wildlife sequences for the Warner Bros. series of FREE WILLY feature films and Universal Pictures’ FLIPPER. He directed and photographed the IMAX motion simulation system film, DOLPHINS - THE RIDE and acted as director and cinematographer for sequences in the Academy Award nominated MacGillivray Freeman IMAX film, DOLPHINS. Most recently, Talbot directed and photographed the IMAX film Ocean Men. He is currently working on a 3D film for the giant IMAX screen.