The Life Aquatic

Almost everyone has a hobby, and some are lucky enough to turn those hobbies into full-time careers. But very few are like Yvan Chocoloff, who managed to make a profession out of his twin loves of scuba diving and underwater photography.

After spending 20 years selling drinking water products, Chocoloff retired and turned his passion into a full-time photojournalism career. A resident of Perpignan, Chocoloff uses his photographs to raise awareness of the degradation of marine environments and to inspire people to protect them.

His photographs have been published in magazines such as Plongée Magazine, Apnéa, Subaqua, Octopus, Chercheurs d'Eau. He has visited more than 25 different countries, diving into some of the most exotic waters the world has to offer.

When asked what happens on a typical dive, he responded that there isn’t such a thing. “It’s different every time. The colors are different, the experiences are different; it’s all very particular,” he said.

Chocoloff’s tall frame, bald head and short white beard make him resemble a grizzled ship captain, fitting considering how much of his life he has spent in the sea.

He grew up in Corsica, where he learned to dive at the age of 7. His main influence was his father, a treasure diver who was inspired by underwater explorer Jacques Cousteau. In the 1960s and 70s, the elder Chocoloff hunted for Spanish galleons that had sunk in the Mediterranean.

As Chocoloff got older, he kept diving because he was drawn in by the beauty of the sea and the need to protect it.

“When I started out I was looking for fish and hunting them,” said Chocoloff. “After a while I began to realize that were fewer and fewer fish. I used to like to take pictures just for fun, but when I was about 30 I began to take pictures to try to interest people in the underwater world. I decided to protect (the fish) with the images that I make.”

Over the course of his career in underwater photography he has encountered many challenges.

“When I started out there were cameras that had to have the flash bulb changed each time you took a picture, which seems pretty archaic now,” Chocoloff said.
Further challenging him were the technical differences that come with shooting underwater.

“Just one meter underwater you lose all the colors, especially red,” he said.
Chocoloff shoots with a special flash that allows him to capture the normal color spectrum.

Although his photographs show many exotic sights, they pale in comparison to the physical experiences he has had with marine life such as sharks and big fish.

“I make the pictures to sell, but it’s these experiences that are the most remarkable,” he said.

The most memorable was an encounter with a 12-meter-long orca that had left its pod and was out on its own, an extremely rare occurrence. Though orcas are commonly known as killer whales, Chocoloff said he wasn’t scared since orcas only eat fish and not people.

What does scare him however are smaller fish, particularly the poisonous ones. But they’re not enough to keep him out of the water. “You just have to be careful.”

Chocoloff is the president of PpO2 Max, a dive team that operates all over the world, but members mostly stay in their native region of Catalonia. He founded it in 2005 with four other Catalan divers; the name is a reference to maximum oxygen tension, the formula used by divers when dealing with oxygen tanks.

“We wanted to change the image of divers, to be responsible divers who protected the underwater environment,” he said.

He also formed the team to so he wouldn’t have to go out alone. Diving, he says, is a very solitary experience. In a group, however, these experiences can be shared.

His family is very supportive of his diving. His wife was a diver but she stopped to raise their family, and his oldest son, who is 17, has been free diving since he was 10 years old.

Chocoloff is worried about the future of the ocean, and has a warning for everyone who is fascinated by marine life.

“If you want to still have these things in 10 or 20 years then you have to be careful to protect them. People dream with images, and if they want to continue to have these dreams then it’s up to them to protect them.”


About the Program

Fifteen college students came from North America to Perpignan, France, in June 2011 to produce these videos and stories. To find out more, read a welcome letter from program director Rachele Kanigel, meet the program faculty and explore the 2010 website.