Updated: Sep 18
Olivier Jude and Sylvie Laurent: underwater photography has never been so “ocean engaging”.
His great passion for ocean ecosystems and its creatures led him to develop a unique
approach of naturalistic photography aimed at transmitting the beauty and fragility of the
underwater world from which life on Planet Earth derives. The result is a visual storytelling that does not leave us indifferent, making us feel part of the Blue Planet. Olivier Jude, native Monegasque with French descents, immediately showed his great love for the sea. In 1989, he joined the Club d’Exploration Sous-Marine de Monaco – C.E.S.M.M. that provides adequate equipment for lovers of scuba diving. In 1993, he achieved the CMAS 3 diving license issued by the World Underwater Federation, highest international authority in the field. In 2001, his multidimensional creativity allowed him to compose the official hymn of the Federation, currently used in the five continents. In 2004, Olivier Jude’s photography career started with the first awards right away to pay tribute to its uniqueness.
Attending the 7th underwater photography competition of Monaco (Coup de Coeur Award) marks the beginning of the collaboration with Sylvie Laurent, CMAS 3 diver of the C.E.S.M.M. who becomes her underwater model. In May 2009, the first PHOCTOPUS exhibit was held in Monaco. In 2011, he was awarded the 2nd Prix Espoir at the European Underwater Image Festival in Strasbourg while on January 2012 he was given the 2nd Expert Prize at the 14th International Diving Show in Paris (Porte Versailles). In Summer 2012 a second edition of PHOCTOPUS showroom entitled “Treasures of Mediterranean Sea” was held at the Oceanographic Museum. Further acknowledgments followed at international competition of underwater photography MIMA (L’Estartit, Costa Brava) and further Monaco International Underwater Photography Challenge editions. In 2015 he attended the Universal Exhibition ‘Milano 2015’ at the Pavilion of the Principality of Monaco and in October-November unveiled ‘MédiTerra’, a photo exhibit set in Naples by the will of the city Mayor and the local Consul of Monaco. In December 2015, on the mandate of the Sovereign Prince, he attended the record dive challenge at Satil Eilat (Israel) within the operation ‘Silence of the Sharks’ to raise awareness against the indiscriminate killing of sharks. In April 2016, Olivier Jude got the hyperbaric class 1-B diving certificate by the National Institute of Professional Diving in Marseillle. In May 2016, he was given the Artistic Prize 2016 awarded by the International Police Association in Monaco. In June 2016, a new exhibition was opened at the Yacht Club de Monaco as part of the Fête de la Mer. In December 2018, he was invited by Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation to expose at the Yacht Club de Monaco as part of the World Co-Chair of the Principality of Monaco for the protection of coral reefs.
From the 3 rd of June until the 31 st August 2023, ‘Planète Mer’ (Planet Sea) was organised at the Galerie des Pêcheurs in Monaco under the Princely Patronage.
MONACŒCOART® had the chance to interview Olivier Jude exclusively to better understand his mission and inspiration.
MONACŒCOART®: Olivier Jude, you have been carrying on an awareness project to boost ocean protection for more than ten years. PHOCTOPUS aims to show the beauty of
underwater life from a fresh point of view. What does it mean for you to convey
underwater wonders through iconic photos? ⏏
🗣️ Olivier Jude: Honestly, I think we still know little of what lies beneath the surface of seas and oceans. At that time, Commander Jacques-Yves Cousteau said that only 10% of
underwater natural wealth had been explored. And he devoted his life to it, as we all know. Therefore, the role of the underwater photographer is in my opinion to try to show to a wider audience of all generations, particularly to the youngest, what the richness and
splendor of that world are. My partner Sylvie Laurent and I have no pretensions. I mean, we are neither scientists nor biologists nor «specialists» in the technical sense. We are certainly passionate about underwater life but we practice only artistic photography, trying to give a visual meaning full-of-ideas.
For sure, our work can serve the cause of protecting the underwater environment. Anyway, we are willing to show natural wonders from the point of view of human beings plunged in that pure beauty. This should make visitors think about it, including those who have not had the chance to be in contact with underwater wildlife. The more we approach nature the more we realise its fragility. without destroying or damaging it. Taking photos would be then the best practice. I do believe that we are not yet sufficiently aware about the importance of preserving oceans.
This is often the message we try to convey to all those who come to see our underwater
pictures, known as “ambient photos”. The presence of Sylvie usually serves to give a
proportionate scale of the place where we are as well as the size of a given fish or
gorgonians. Viewers are often amazed by this comparison since they do not imagine finding so much life and colour palette under the surface of the water and they increase their eco-awareness since we are prone to protect what we consider charming.
Taking ‘macro’ photos allows you to grasp more details about small creatures, sometimes
smaller than a nail, generally impossible to see in their real forms. Thus, we decided to
enlarge them fifty times to show at the Planet Sea Exhibition on panels, measuring 180 x
120 cm each. I am therefore convinced that underwater photographers’ main role is to
unveil what is usually hidden. Think about anthias fishes we photographed. They are quite
common fishes of only 2 or 3 cm wingspan. Their design and colours show us that nature
has already invented everything before us. So, why destroying or damaging the underwater life offered us without any manipulation?
MONACŒCOART®: Where does the pun PHOCTOPUS come from? ⏏
🗣️ Olivier Jude: PHOCTOPUS was created by my son Julien in 2009 when he was studying 3D graphic design. Now he lives in Montreal (Canada), but he still loves octopus that are considered one of the smartest and most fascinating animals ever. Knowing my passion for photography, the contraction of PHOTO and OCTOPUS was born in his mind as well as the corresponding logo where the octopus tentacle shapes the letter “P”.
MONACŒCOART®: What do you consider decisive in shooting underwater? ⏏
🗣️ Olivier Jude: Unlike a «land» photographer, divers face a “hostile” environment. The water, namely the underwater world, is not the common dimension for human beings. A diving photo session cannot last more than 45 minutes since the oxygen needed to breathe is not infinite and you have to get used to. We must therefore first consider our safety before defining our photo objectives. Most of the time, weather influences shootings. Nature leads! We must be aware of it without focusing only on sports physical performance. Being accepted by the natural environment is prior, then creativeness arises accordingly on the basis of your experience.
What we consider unique while taking photos is certainly the rarity of the species
encountered, or simply the implementation of an underwater vision where colours will
triumph with the graphics of what is before us. Nothing is predefined. It is essential to
provide the audience with a precise photographic profile in order to make viewers sharing the same point of view of who is behind the lens. We have always refused to use photo editing programs except for a soft cleaning post-processing to keep authenticity.
MONACŒCOART®: Your photo series are always the result of something you have
experienced personally, in different places of the world, including the seabed of Monaco
part of two marine protected areas. Do you have an anecdote or a special encounter with a
sea creature that you will never forget? ⏏
🗣️ Olivier Jude: We are often told that the Mediterranean is heavily polluted due to
anthropogenic impacts that destroyed biodiversity more than in the Red Sea or the Indian
Ocean. However, we must consider that Mare Nostrum is smaller than the others so that
some endemic species have evolved and adapted. Thus, you can find anthias ‘dancing’ in
Port Hercules waters as well as pretty good size tunas swimming in front of Monte-Carlo
Casino, just 30 meters below the sea surface. We have witnessed all this. At Planète Mer
Exhibition you could also find a Flabellina, a small slug of 2cm long belonging to the
Nudibranchs Family who lives in seabed at 20 metres depth.
This dragon-shaped creature shows off fantastic colours. The photo was taken in summer 2020 near Ustica island (Sicily). Mediterranean Gorgonians still offer amazing red or yellow colours at 40 metres depth where you can find colder waters. In April 2021, we were lucky enough to find Red Sea seabed quieter than usual diminishing the number of underwater tourists. We could then enjoy an abundance of creatures including an iconic Napoleon fish (Cheilinus undulatus) of huge dimensions.
But Mediterranean represents for me my roots.
MONACŒCOART®: Jacques Yves Cousteau, said: «The sea, once it has cast its spell on you, holds you in its net of wonder forever». Do you share this idea? If so, what indelible message has the ocean left in you? How do you feel when you dive into a biodiversity-rich seabed? ⏏
🗣️ Olivier Jude: I fully agree with Commander Cousteau who influenced me from an early age for his willingness to discover the underwater world. When I was very young, my parents often took me to the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco. I consider it as the Temple of the Sea. Sylvie, my partner, and I are fond of cult documentary films like: «L'Odyssée de la Calypso du Commandant Cousteau». I followed the whole storytelling of Calypso, so I was very sad when I knew that that mythical ship could not come back to Monaco. Every time I fly from Nice to the North, I immediately miss the Mediterranean that represents the main source of wellbeing and artistic creativity. We love the Sea, we often go on a boat and diving to enjoy the splendours of our underwater explorations.
MONACŒCOART®: What kind of physical training and equipment are necessary to face the diving like the ones you realise? ⏏
🗣️ Olivier Jude: I said in the introduction of this interview, what we care first is safety
besides the underwater photography. Sylvie and I have been diving for fourteen years and we work, travel together to discover the underwater funds. Nowadays, we do not need to talk before the diving thanks to a series of signs like proper codes which facilitate our communication under water.
Our excellent results come from healthy life (no alcohol, no excesses). As professional
divers, every six months, we are tested by a hyperbaric doctor. At present, diving is
considered as both a sports activity and an extreme sport. People who think that diving in
the Mediterranean Sea is cooler are wrong. The Mediterranean divers (certainly the best
ones) are trained according to the rules of Confédération Mondiale des Activités
Subaquatiques, CMAS, created by Commander Cousteau in 1960 in Monaco, following his idea to gather all the world divers.
Sylvie and I are both certified Nitrox divers, after passing examination and training, and we use Nitrox (i.e.: with enriched air beyond 20% of classic oxygen) for our decompression. Thanks to a considerable scientific progress, our diving is deeper, longer, safer and in the beginning less tiring. In scuba diving training, as all the other sports, is very important to maintain a healthy condition.
As far as the equipment is concerned, our diving material is very classic (everybody can buy it in any specific shop) apart from the pressure regulators and the Nitrox blocks. Because of the cold water, we need different diving suits depending on the sea and the ocean we are going to explore.
The photographic material has changed after twenty years of practice and the actual
professional equipment is very different and need a lot of training. Nevertheless, our
passion and adrenaline help us to conquer the best underwater pictures.
MONACŒCOART®: What kind of attitude should a human being adopt in order to get close to the marine creatures and the coral bottoms? ⏏
🗣️ Olivier Jude: One word only : RESPECT. In my opinion we must feel humble in front of the underwater and coral richness. I am not a scientist but my friends and biologists from the Centre Scientifique de Monaco state that the coral grows less than one centimetre each year.
When we are in the Red Sea, South Egypt, near Zabargad, we can see coral walls 20 metres high and then you realize that it took thousands of years for the corals to build it. For the exhibition "Planète Mer” Sylvie is near the wall to make people understand the huge size. It is amazing to see such a marine life and what the nature offers us, a privilege that we must respect and defend.
MONACŒCOART®: First Exposition at the Salle the Princes within the Oceanographic
Museum in 2012. Then many other locations around the world, like Naples in 2015 and
Moscow in 2019. In 2020, you exhibited at the Maison de France in Monaco with the
exhibition “Profondeurs” under the High Patronage of the Sovereign Prince. What feelings
have been appreciated by H.S.H Prince Albert II de Monaco? ⏏
🗣️ Olivier Jude: We hope to be “appreciated” by H.S.H. Prince Albert II de Monaco, but we are aware that without His support, His help and encouragement to defend the underwater environment, which we are very happy to promote, we will not be here today. We will be happy to hear that our work can help promoting the protection of our underwater heritage.
MONACŒCOART®: Where does the latest exhibition come from? ⏏
🗣️ Olivier Jude: The Direction de l’Environnement of the Principality gave us the idea for our exhibition at the Galerie des Pêcheurs and we have been very happy and proud of this choice. The Principality of Monaco, where I was born, is a small State but surely nowadays it represents a large commitment for the safeguard of the Seas and Oceans. We have just followed the high underwater environment values of our State. Yacht Club de Monaco and other numerous partners have been following our journey for many years and these goodwill synergies have helped us with our work of underwater photography.
MONACŒCOART®: What are the future projects? ⏏
🗣️ Olivier Jude: Well…we have just come back from the Egades Islands, a protected area in Sicily, Italy. Simply marvellous, captivating, both on and under water surface: a small
terrestrial paradise. Before we had been in Raja Ampat Arcipelagus in India after fourteen
days of navigation. Next November we are going to leave for the Red Sea for new
underwater pictures. So, we will have new collections of images to enrich our data base
already very beautiful. What we are very fond of is this constant search for an artistic
dimension at the service of environment. Then we will be looking for a new local or
international location to exhibit. Once it will be fixed, we will announce it without reserve.
To know more about Olivier Jude and Sylvie Laurant please visit: Phoctopus
By Maurice Abbati
Springer International Publishing