Dive Under the Sea With Coral Kingdoms and Empires of Ice

David Doubilet dives under the water to capture an image of a tiger shark.
David Doubilet dives under the water to capture an image of a tiger shark. Jennifer Hayes
It’s been said that a picture is worth a thousand words, but during the Houston Symphony’s presentation of Coral Kingdoms and Empires of Ice, the pictures are going to leave people speechless.

Photography duo and married couple David Doubilet and Jennifer Hayes have spent several decades as a research team capturing the breathtaking world under the water, and they will showcase the stories of adventure and their experiences with the marine life for the second installment of the four-part National Geographic Live series on Tuesday, January 10 at 7:30 p.m.

For this talk, they’ll showcase photos and videos from the rich and diverse waters of Papua New Guinea, which is part of the coral triangle. From there, they’ll explore the world beneath the Antarctic ice and then north to the Gulf of St. Lawrence to see whales, wolffish and harp seals.

“What we're doing is telling the ‘real’ story behind the story. The good, bad, ugly, humiliating, the successes and the failures,” says Hayes. “Really, though, we’re just the messengers. It’s the animals’ stories that we’re telling.”

The background of how these two got into this line of work is almost as captivating as the images they show of their adventures.

“My partner knew what he wanted to be at the tender age of 12,” says Hayes. “He wanted to be Jacques Cousteau.”

Doubilet’s bio details that his first entry into photography was when he used a Brownie Hawkeye camera stuffed into a rubber anesthesiologist bag. The bag filled with air, so sinking it was akin to submerging the Hindenburg, and the picture was barely recognizable.

His talents have, thankfully, blossomed since then. Now, five decades later, he boasts a much more compelling portfolio. A contributing editor for several publications, he has authored 12 titles, including the award-winning Water Light Time. Doubilet was named a National Geographic Contributing Photographer-in-Residence in 2001 and is honored to be a Rolex Ambassador and a recipient of the prestigious Explorers Club Lowell Thomas Award and the Lennart Nilsson Award for scientific photography.
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Penguins rest on an iceberg and dive underneath it.
David Doubilet
Hayes approached photojournalism from a different angle. As a schooled aquatic biologist and professor, she was more involved in the teaching and research aspect of marine life before she found her calling. One of her earliest works as a biologist was to study a fish species called sturgeon.

“I was showing a lot of charts, pie graphs and spreadsheets while talking about these amazing creatures. After a while, I stared at those graphs of these creatures that swam with the dinosaurs and live to be 50 years old, and I got really mad,” says Hayes. “I went out and started taking pictures of them and their behavior and showed the photos. Instead of showing the data, I reversed it. I put the picture up and talked about the data. It made a bigger impact, and that just evolved into storytelling.”

She’s not looked back since, and has found the images as useful to engage people in learning more about marine life and ecology.

“The images can educate, honor and humble. They have a lot of power, and we use that power to make a difference. We want people to realize they are connected to the river and the ocean around them and care about it. We want to illuminate what’s going on out there,” says Hayes.

The couple crossed paths first when he was covering research for a magazine and she was a grad student at the University of Miami. Their paths kept criss-crossing until they both worked on the same project, and then the romance bloomed.

“It happened while covering a pregnant lemon shark as it was giving birth in The Bahamas, and it just became personal after that,” she says.

Now they work together each day using their house, located on the border of New York along the St. Lawrence River, as home base while jetting, boating and diving to all stretches of the globe to explore and learn.
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A baby green sea turtle enjoys life in the waters of French Polynesia.
David Doubilet

“He’s the artist and I’m the pragmatist and scientist. We both photograph. We don’t always agree artistically, which is great. It would be boring if we agreed on everything. He’ll do camera prep, and I’ll work with the scientists, and we go out as a team,” says Hayes.

Ultimately, though, they are joined in their vision of encouraging others to develop a curiosity about the world around them.

“I want to inspire someone who hears a story about a shark or penguin, and then suddenly they feel the need to know more, and then they become the next best thing on this planet because they study it in school,” says Hayes. “If we can spark a kid’s interest, and then they go through and become an extraordinary human that helps save the environment, then we’ve won. The same thing goes for adults.”

The presentation is approximately 70 minutes in length, followed by 15 minutes for a question-and-answer session. The Houston Symphony will not perform during this event.

Coral Kingdoms and Empires of Ice takes place at Jones Hall (615 Louisiana) on Tuesday, January 10.  For information, call 713-224-7575 or visit Tickets range between $15 to $65.

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Sam Byrd is a freelance contributor to the Houston Press who loves to take in all of Houston’s sights, sounds, food and fun. He also loves helping others to discover Houston’s rich culture.
Contact: Sam Byrd