In his series Giants, Australian photographer Jem Cresswell captured moving portraits of humpback whales. These photos are so full of personality, they’re like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Taken between 2014 and 2016 during the creatures’ annual migration to Tonga in the southern Pacific Ocean, the photos in the collection were selected from more than 10,000 images. What commitment! And the only gear he takes with him is photography gear.
“We only swim with certain whales; snorkelling/free diving with them (no scuba). I always enter the water as calmly as possible, keeping my heart rate low and wait to see the behaviour. There are obvious signs if the whales are comfortable, and we will not approach until it is evident they are happy for us to be in the water with them. Many a time, a curious whale will come over for a closer look. Its amazing to witness their conscious movements; to see their eye follow you as they move and put their pectoral fin down, to ensure they don’t bump you as they pass. A lot of whales can be very interactive, particularly confident calves and sub-adults, and some even imitate certain movements. Encounters may last from a few minutes, to a few hours.”
In 2006, scientists discovered the presence of spindle cells in humpback whale brains. These cells are linked to “social organization, empathy, intuition and rapid gut reactions,” and are only present in humans, great apes, and these whales. Cresswell often refers to the photos’ sense of anthropomorphism, but is it really anthropomorphism if the creatures in question are capable of the emotions they appear to be experiencing?
We sometimes get visits from humpbacks in Rockaway, and they never fail to move and thrill me. Now, I’m even more fascinated by them!
All images property of Jem Cresswell.