Nanaimo Photographer Selected for Ocean Storytelling Fellowship – Nanaimo News Bulletin
A photographer who came to Nanaimo to scuba dive in the area is among this year’s Ocean Storytelling Photography Grant recipients.
Shane Gross is one of four photographers to receive the Save Our Seas Foundation Fellowship, established in 2003 to protect marine life – especially sharks and rays – and supports researchers, conservationists and educators around the world with funding to help them tell science and environmental stories.
The Save Our Seas Grants Program is led by Thomas P. Peschak, National geographic magazine photographer and director of storytelling for the foundation; Kathy Moran, former editor, and Jennifer Samuel, photo editor.
Photos Gross took in Campbell River and the Bahamas were included in his portfolio submission.
The 36-year-old is originally from Regina, but scuba diving, photography and his love for the oceans and marine life are practically part of his DNA.
“My dad was a scuba diver before I was born and he would go on these epic live trips, 30 days in the Red Sea or the Great Barrier Reef or whatever, and come home and project his pictures onto the backs of our curtains – they were slides back then – and there were always dive magazines, books and documentaries lying around,” he said. “It was always there.”
Gross grew up obsessed with sharks.
“Jaws was one of my favorite movies since I was probably six,” he said. “Yet most of my clothes have sharks or whales or octopuses or something like that.
He moved to the Bahamas in 2012 and worked as a diving instructor until the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Shortly after returning to Regina, he realized he needed to be where he could dive, but pandemic restrictions prevented him from leaving Canada.
“So I went to Nanaimo, not knowing anyone, and decided to go and I’ve been here for a little over a year now,” he said. “I really learned to like it.”
Gross has always been interested in photography and after years of looking at pictures from magazines and wondering how photographers make them, he decided to take it seriously in 2009. He put aside his compact camera, bought high quality underwater photo equipment and ventured out to make images of whale sharks, sperm whales and other sea animals.
“I didn’t think of it as a career at the time. I just wanted to take nice pictures…I loved it and became more and more obsessed with it,” he said.
Wherever he went to take pictures, he heard stories and legends of the abundance that once reigned there, like so many turtles clogging up a waterway that people could walk across on their backs or that 100 million sharks have been killed for a year for their fins.
“Go down the list. Everything in the ocean we are exhausting and so how can you show one side without showing the other side? … My passion and purpose now is to tell conservation stories,” Gross said. “Every ocean story now is a conservation story…even if it’s a positive story.”
Gross first applied for the grant in 2014. He didn’t win, but made it to the finals and asked Peschak if he would do an individual portfolio review.
“There were some good ones in there and he was just about it, but for the most part he tore them up…” Gross said “I remember a picture came up and he said, ‘Don’t show never again this photo to anyone. ‘ and it was the first time someone was so honest about my work and it showed how much work I had left to do.
For the grant, photographers must submit a photographic essay of 10 images, each building on the last to show a full story, plus another 20 images that demonstrate the photographer’s technical and artistic ability. Gross’s work was selected from a field of 150 entries from 47 countries.
As part of the grant, Gross will serve a three-week assignment under the mentorship of Peschak, Moran and Samuel and he said he was nervous but excited.
“To me, having this mentorship means the world,” he said. “It means that I will accelerate as a photographer much faster than I would otherwise… The previous winners of this grant, looking at the works they have produced in just three weeks, is staggering. The bar is very high and the pressure is therefore strong to deliver.
To learn more about the Save Our Seas Foundation, visit http://saveourseas.com.