Through the lens: an interview with François Aurat, chief deck officer and photographer aboard Tara

© Céline Bellanger / Fondation Tara Expéditions

Tara Oceans, Tara Mediterranean and Tara Pacific. For the last 10 years, François Aurat has been on all the expeditions. When he’s not attending to winches or rigging on deck, ‘Fanch’- as the Taranauts call him – has his camera in hand, taking a few thousand photos during each mission.

What inspires you the most about taking photos aboard Tara?

At first I couldn’t stop taking photos of the boat, but today I try to vary the subjects. During stopovers I like meeting people, and I enjoy discovering marine animals and landscapes. I’ve been taking pictures since I was 14 years old. I must have taken 10,000 photos just during the Tara Pacific expedition (laughs).

Among your thousands of photos, which ones are you most proud of?

Hmm … I would say the ones I took during Tara Oceans while circumnavigating the Arctic. From Russia to Canada, the Arctic Ocean has almost inaccessible places where I’ll not be returning any time soon. Each image is unique.

_DSC0444Circumpolar – Tara Oceans Expedition © François Aurat / Tara Ocean Foundation 

Are there ones which you most regret having missed?

Drone photos in heavy weather during the transatlantic return. The sea was raging and for a week our speed was between 50 and 60 knots (equivalent to 93 – 111 km/h of wind). In normal weather I can climb to the top of the mast and go all over the boat I know the angles and places to get the best images. I could have taken beautiful aerial photos, even just from the mast, but everything was moving so much that at the moment, I didn’t even think about it.

Is Tara seen through a lens so different from the one you see with the naked eye as a sailor?

To tell you the truth, I would very much like to film short scenes about life on board. When I have 5 minutes I take some pictures, but we are a crew, so I avoid bothering the captain or the chief mechanic, and we’re always busy on Tara.

After 100 sunsets, don’t you get tired of this life of images?

Never! In general, I don’t take pictures of sunsets, but take advantage of the moment. Also, I think I prefer the morning to the evening when I’m alone on the deck, at dawn. But beyond sun and landscapes, the richness of life on board comes from meetings across the oceans and in different countries, especially with scientists. Over the past 10 years, we’ve created so many links and I’ve learned so much about coral and plankton. It’s really fabulous! With photography, I can immortalize moments that I would certainly have forgotten. So, I can travel back 5 or 6 years, dive into the expeditions and find faces that I have not seen since. That’s the magic of photography.

François Aurat en haut du mât de Tara François Aurat at the top of Tara’s mast © Francis Latreille / Tara Ocean Foundation 

In March, your work is being presented in 2 photo exhibitions. How are they different artistically?

Impressions displays the drawings I made using the technique of “gyotaku”, a Japanese form of print-making. Before the birth of photography, local fishermen used this technique to immortalize their best catch, the biggest fish caught. It was their pride. When I went to Japan, I found the traditionally used paper. I made these prints from the fish caught on Tara and gave my illustrations to the people on board. But I still kept some for my show (laughs).

The theme of my other exhibition — Tara, voyage to the heart of the climate machine — is water. It’s not just about the Arctic. I chose photos related to global warming and melting ice. In some regions you don’t realize that the Earth is warming up, while in other places you take a look and realize right away. There are also pictures of people living near water, for example Japanese fishermen.

Can you say something about your next adventures?

I would like to go back to northern Canada, where I met narwhal fishermen near Arctic Bay. I would like to do a photo story on the lives of these communities since the ice melting has accelerated. Many Inuit in Pond Inlet, at Nunavut, have had to adapt and change their habits – a way of life not well-known. But before that, we have a new mission here in Europe with Tara, and especially under the Mediterranean sun I love so much!


Circumpolar – Tara Oceans Expedition © François Aurat / Tara Ocean Foundation

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