He really is an extreme photographer. Your forays under water are always associated with risks. ‘Fear wakes me up. It didn’t stop me from doing anything, ”says Amos Nachoum. He is internationally recognized for his underwater pictures. Now add another service. He’s the photographer who swam with polar bears … and lives to tell about it.
Sharks and other predators
From the Antarctic to the High Arctic, he has dived in extreme environments. Catch some of the greatest and elusive predators that live underwater. Blue whales, killer whales, anacondas, Nile crocodiles, sharks … without using a safety cage.
“I wanted to show in a picture what it means to deal with the great white,” he says. “If we don’t provoke them, if we don’t harass them, we can be peaceful with them.” He was three feet away when he photographed a great white shark. The Israeli photographer sees elegance, strength and beauty in animals.
As a young man, Amos did military service, which was compulsory in Israel. He fought in the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. Traumatized by the violence, he left Israel to start a new life in the United States. He was a taxi driver there and had occasional jobs until the idea of doing underwater photography occurred to him.
He had a special dream: to be the first man to photograph a polar bear in the water. He recalls his father calling it a “suicide mission” when he found out. In the spring of 2000, Amos made his way north to the Arctic, unimpressed. With the help of a local Inuit guide, he spotted a male polar bear and jumped into the water.
Swim with bears
I had read that polar bears could not dive deeper than 10 meters. «The polar bear is very heavy. You have a lot of fat on your body and on your skin. You have to work hard to get down, “he says. Decades of experience have taught him how to look for signs in an animal that might suggest an attack is imminent.
As the bear approached him, Amos dived and the bear followed him. “Then it was a drama,” he says. “It was about 15 or 17 meters away and it went further down. I could only see the paws, nose and muzzle. To be honest, I was scared. Amos had little chance of fighting or fleeing from the large carnivore.
“When I was about twenty feet tall, I looked up. Instead of looking at me vertically, the bear was more horizontal and was swimming at that height. Survived. And luckily the polar bear was gone when it came back to the surface.
The second chance came years later. His student Yonatan Mir made a documentary about him that took them both to the Arctic in 2015. A budget of $ 1 million has been allocated for the project. A sum that would allow them to stay for just five days. They searched for four days with no luck until the precious moment came.
“We saw them go down the hill and into the water.” They finally discovered a mother bear with her two cubs. Under these circumstances, it was the first time that a polar bear was photographed with two cubs. This time Amos had a buddy, Adam. I was there to film the event.
“They came closer and closer to us. I looked at Adam and took the regulator out of my mouth, smiled and put the regulator back on and went down the stairs, “recalls Amos.
“She (the polar bear) approached over our heads. I turned to take a picture of him. The picture he took was the silhouette of a bear. He waited for the shot to show the bears staring at him. «The she-bear was initially over the water. Then he bowed his head … I clicked continuously, all the photos I could take ».
His father died before Amos could return to Israel. But on his return, the photographer who was swimming with polar bears visited the cemetery. He took the framed photo of the polar bear to put on his grave.
“I’ve achieved something he didn’t think he could.” The famous photographer also adds: “He challenged me to be the best that I can be.”