Michael Muller Shines Empathetic Light On Underwater’s Greatest Predator

by Dominique Mucols

MMU16001_026_001.jpg
A new Taschen book features Michael Muller's Great White Shark photography.

“The answer to the threat of man-eating sharks, the scavengers which infest all tropical waters of the world, was announced here today...” (quote from 1943 draft OSS/ERE press release on the development of a shark repellent) —From “Julia Child and the OSS recipe for Shark repellent,” CIA

Between 2007 and 2008 the Central Intelligence Agency released thousands of personnel files revealing the identities of both secret and de-classified operatives dating back to the CIA’s predecessor, the office of Strategic Services. Among them was one Julia McWilliams, a Smith graduate who was too tall for field service, and who later went on to popularize French cuisine under her married name, Julia Child.

At the height of WWII, Child was tasked with developing a “Shark Repellent.” Though the repellent was a largely symbolic task, the action was announced to assuage the fears of sailors deployed over shark-infested waters. At the time, stories of shark attacks made headlines back home and would-be seamen were put off by the prospect of being eaten alive. The repellant eventually provided sailors with the necessary courage. “Shark Chaser,” as it came to be known, was used widely until the 1970s, when human/ predatory fish relations were significantly worsened by the release in 1975 of a film with a menacing duo-note soundtrack called, simply, Jaws.

_MMU16001_052_001

With galeophobia at an all-time high, in July of 1988 the Discovery Channel premiered a week of programming devoted to the apex predator. In the nearly three decades since, Shark Week has become a national pastime and welcome small talk fodder in the doldrums of summer when it’s impossible to discuss any further the finer points of how hot it is. Though Shark Week was originally meant as an education tool, in the last few years it devolved to more sensationalist tactics epitomized by a docu-fiction series Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives.

Despite all this photographer Michael Muller has been modestly going about his passion project for the last decade: photographing great whites as if they were sitting in his studio. Muller lures the sharks with a seal decoy, and using a self-designed underwater strobe light that utilizes NASA tech, captures them in a way that few wildlife photographers have ever been able to. In August 2014, the New York Times Magazine ran a photo of a great white breaching, the first of it’s kind—that photograph took Muller a year to capture.

Although he has spent the last 30 years photographing celebrities—for this publication among many others—sharks, for Muller, were an immediate fixation.

“I took my first shark trip nearly ten years ago to the island of Guadalupe—180 nautical miles off the coast of Mexico—a volcanic island that comes up out of the sea and has a seal colony that lives on it,” Muller said over the phone, “Every year, for three to four months, 150-200 great white sharks come to feed on these seals before venturing out into the middle of the Pacific. No one knows, still, what they do there. From the moment I laid eyes on that first shark my preconceptions began to melt away, I saw that this animal was not the killing machine the media had painted of it but instead a highly intelligent animal that was as aware of myself as I was of it.”

This March, Taschen released a volume dedicated to Muller’s ten years of aquatic photography and conservation efforts—Sharks: Face-to-Face with the Ocean’s Endangered Predator. The lavish publication stresses the importance of the shark’s place in our seas and features essays by Philippe Cousteau, Jr., and marine biologist Dr. Alison Kock.

“The whole mission of this book,” Muller says, “was to raise both awareness and funds for the protection of sharks around the world. When I learned we were killing one hundred million sharks every year—a rate they could not possibly reproduce at to sustain—I made it my mission to find a way to use my art to educate people.”

_MMU16001_055_001

All images From Sharks: Face-to-Face with the Ocean’s Endangered Predator by Michael Muller, courtesy of Taschen, New York, and CPI-Syndication, New York. 

TAGS