As with many great images, there is a great story behind this photograph. I captured this image in the fall of 2006. Regent Seven Seas Cruises had hired me to create and lead photo expeditions across Europe. As a result, Helen, Jordan, Tamar and I lived aboard the ship pictured here, The Voyager, for six weeks. It was a memorable time for many reasons, not the least of which was that Jordan turned three and Tamar turned one during the cruise. I suppose I could write a short book on having kids that age on a cruise ship not intended for kids and for that length of time. But I’ll leave that for another space and time.
Of note in capturing this image was the daring captain of our ship, Dag Dvergastein. Captain Dag was an oversized personality who embraced every aspect of being in charge of a luxury cruise ship. He is a tall man and used his physical presence in combination with his confidence and charisma to smoothly take over every room he entered as a natural celebrity. He was – and still is, I’m sure – a terrific captain for a luxury cruise line.
In the pantheon of cruise ship staff, I was a nobody. I was hired by the shore-bound corporate team as a 6-week experiment. As such, my reception by the ship’s staff was mixed. Some people – the Cruise Director – cautiously embraced Helen, the kids and I and our mission. Others, The Hotel Director for one, made it perfectly clear that we were pests that needed to disembark and never return at the soonest. As for Captain Dag, we were well beneath his radar which was tuned, appropriately, to the VIP guests and, as needed, to his senior staff. To him, we were invisible.
On week three of the cruise, we sailed off the shore of Capri – and at sunset, in what I can only imagine is a somewhat daring move considering the stakes, Captain Dag navigated our ship between these two iconic rock formations known as The Faraglioni. Helen, kids and I, like all the other passengers, were topside taking in the spectacular view and wondering a) how we managed to navigate this tiny cut between the cliffs and b) how much risk we were actually taking in doing so. I also had a third thought – if only I could be off the ship, I would have been able to capture an amazing image of The Regent Seven Seas Voyager off the coast of Capri.
As fate would have it, we were destined to return past Capri two weeks later. Once I realized this, I spoke to the Cruise Director about getting off the ship to capture the moment should Captain Dag decide to again push the bow of his ship through the narrow gap between these majestic rock formations. I was introduced to one of the Captain’s staff to whom I explained my request. Over the course of a few days, I was asked to speak to increasingly senior staff members about my request until I was, finally, invited to the Bridge to explain my plan to Captain Dag himself.
Now I needed an actual plan – more than a simple, ‘hey get me off the ship’ request. Helen and I sat down and sketched out the rocks off Capri, where the sun was setting and where I thought I needed to be to capture the perfect image. My plan was to give Captain Dag a plan – something concrete that he could say “yes” to.
Captain Dag was no less a force to be reckoned with on the Bridge, among his staff, than he was out and about among the guests. Once I was ushered onto the Bridge, Dag put his arm around me – he towering above my 5’8″ frame – and made quick work of making sure I knew my place. “So you call yourself a photographer,” he said with a smile. Figuring I had little time to spare, I went into my pitch. “Captain,” I said, “I can get a great shot of your ship off the island of Capri if you can get me off the ship. I have a plan for where to take the picture,” I added, holding out the piece of paper with our rudimentary drawing.
Dag wasn’t the least bit interested in my drawing. His arm still around my shoulders – not so much out of friendship but out of dominance – Dag said, “You know where you’ll take the picture?” I tried to reply, to point out that yes, I had a plan and even a diagram, but I was cut off. “You’ll take the picture from exactly where I tell you to take the picture.”
I crumpled up the drawing and tucked it into my jacket pocket, “Yes, Captain.” I paused and then asked, “Where would you like me to take the picture from?” Captain Dag, barely letting go of my shoulder, told a story about another photographer he’d worked with that included a helicopter and standing atop one of the imposing Capri cliffs. I asked him again where he wanted me to be when I took the picture of his ship between the rocks at Capri, since clearly there wouldn’t be a helicopter involved in my shoot. His reply this time was about tides and timing and the factors that all needed to line up in order for him to repeat the performance. After which Captain Dag released my shoulder and pivoted to talk to someone else. He was done with me.
Adrift momentarily on the Bridge, one of the Captain’s senior staff ushered me over to charts of Capri to discuss the actual details. He wanted to be sure I was comfortable descending a rope ladder as the ship was moving. I was. He wanted to be sure I was comfortable in a Zodiac. I was. He mentioned the risk of transferring from the moving cruise ship to a moving Zodiac in the open sea. I told him I was comfortable with the risks. He then pointed to the chart and asked me where I wanted to be in order to take the shot. I pulled out the crumpled piece of paper from my pocket and started going over the options and my thoughts on the ideal spot from which to take the picture.
As we talked, Captain Dag came up behind us and peered over at the piece of paper with some amount of interest. I didn’t acknowledge his presence directly, clearly he didn’t want to be seen, but it was worth a smile.
Two days later, at the appointed time, I donned a commercial grade life jacket, put 40lbs of camera gear on my back and descended what can best be described as a classic webbed rope ladder and took the giant step into the Zodiac. Both the ship and the Zodiac were moving, the Mediterranean Sea was relatively calm with swells of three feet. Once securely in the Zodiac, I took my place at the bow and turned to the boat’s captain. “Has Captain Dag told you where he wants us to go?” I asked, half expecting us to be tightly under Dag’s control. The Zodiac captain shook his head. “He told me to take you wherever you need to be,” he said.
Let me say for the record that my plan on where to position the Zodiac was not a good one. At my request, we zipped several hundred yards off the port side. The sun was setting to our left, lighting up Capri and the ship nicely – but there was no drama to the shot. Worse yet, as the ship slipped in between the Faraglioni rocks, I lost sight of the bow. The shot didn’t work.
Quickly, I instructed the Zodiac skipper to come around the western edge of Faraglioni, putting the sun directly behind us. Again, I asked to be several hundred yards from the action. I did capture a lovely and peaceful shot from that position. And while I love that image, I still lacked the drama I really wanted. I asked the skipper to get our Zodiac as close to Faraglioni as he dared – and as we got closer and he slowed the engines, I urged him to get closer still. Here, finally, I saw the drama we all felt through my viewfinder. The distortion of the wide angle lens helped increase the drama of the cliffs and accentuate the point of the ship’s bow, all of which combined to make what I believe is a terrific image.
Back on the Voyager, and after a quick edit, I shared my images with passengers in a specially arranged lecture in the ship’s theater. When I was finished, one of the ship’s officers informed me that the Captain wanted me to show him the images in his private office. And so I went. I found Captain Dag a lot less imposing as he sat at his desk, much like a normal person. Before looking at my images, Captain Dag shared pictures he had taken in his native Norway. He shared some images he had of The Voyager. And then, after we had settled in, he asked to see the images I had captured.
I saved this image for last – and Captain Dag loved it. He asked for a copy, which I readily supplied. He later asked permission for the ship’s photo store to print one copy of the image as a gift for their VIP guests – of course I said yes, no problem. And then, finally, Captain Dag – in what I suppose was the highest compliment of all at the time – made this his desktop background image.
I’m proud of this image for a variety of reasons – working with the iconic Captain Dag being one them. As a fine art photographer, I found I was good at shooting things that existed. I am accustomed to maneuvering to find the right angle. But rarely, if ever, was I maneuvering in so much space, with so little time – starting from the entirely wrong position and, under pressure, needing to find the shot I wanted – a shot I hadn’t yet envisioned or planned for. In short, when I see this picture I am proud of having worked the scene and situation in ways that I previously didn’t know I was capable of.
Captain Dag sees his ship. I trust you see a dramatic image. I see all of that plus professional and artistic maturity that, at the time, I hadn’t realized I had reached.