Photographer Kurt Arrigo lived out a childhood dream when he boarded a plane and made his way to Tonga. He made the long journey across the world to dive into the waters and photograph humpback whales. As an experienced underwater photographer, he knew that he needed to keep his expectations in check—one never knows what can happen when working with living creatures. Luckily, the trip more than exceeded what he'd hoped.
In preparation for the trip, Arrigo had taken a freediving course in order to strengthen his breathing underwater. His training came in handy when he encountered a mother whale and her calf. The photographer jumped into the water and, with the permission of the mother, he frolicked with the playful calf for 30 minutes. After collecting a wonderful series of photos, Arrigo bid the pair farewell as “mom” decided that it was time for them to go.
This was just one of many magical encounters that Arrigo experienced while in Tonga. Part of the trip's success was owed to Arrigo's attitude toward working with humpback whales. “One needs to respect the size and sheer power these beautiful mammals have,” Arrigo tells My Modern Met. “We are entering their space so one really needs to maintain a sense of calmness towards them. The challenge is to photograph and swim around them in harmony making sure you don't in any way feel like you are a threat.”
One look at Arrigo's photographs and it's clear that his sensitive approach worked. Across black-and-white and color photography, the grace, beauty, and power of these humpback whales have been respected. Forty years in the making, the trip was particularly powerful for Arrigo. Not many of us can say that we were able to follow through on the dreams we had at 10 years old, but now Arrigo can.