FRENCH NATIONAL FRANCK GAZZOLA ENDURED 13 YEARS OF CORPORATE LIFE BEFORE A MOVE TO AUSTRALIA AFFORDED HIM THE CHANCE TO TURN WHAT WAS ONCE A PASSION PROJECT INTO A FULLY-FLEDGED CAREER.
Franck Gazzola enjoys living a life of extremes.
While one minute you could find the 37-year-old zooming in to catch the unseen tears of a proud father-of-the-bride during an emotional service in the hot Tuscan sun, the next he could be on board a 60ft expedition boat headed for the Antarctic and preparing to shoot 150m below the ice.
But the French-born, Sydney-based multi-linguistic snapper says he now could not imagine living any other way.
A self-described adventure, travel and lifestyle photographer who specialises in remote expeditions – but is also lured to shoot at least a couple of weddings a year– Franck was just 17 when first exposed to the beauty of film and the magic of a darkroom.
Banned from watching television during week days, he would fill his days reading books, stroking the keys of a piano, exploring outdoors and continually looking for more creative way to beat the boredom that would inevitably overcome him.
He recalls his father patiently spending hours attempting to explain aperture and shutter speed principles to the teenager who admits to being more interested in music than photography at the time.
“Even if I pretended I knew it all… I could not compute any of it. The only thing I was focused on was going out and shooting. I was frothing to get the very first roll of film back from the print shop, and what a disappointment: I realised I should’ve paid more attention to what my dad had to say about the light-metering and all those technical concepts I had no idea about. But my ego got in the way: it was hard to admit I had failed, and more importantly that I was wrong not to listen.”
Putting his creative pursuits on the backburner, Franck lived the life of a corporate manager, spending 13 years working in a suit and tie during stints in the US, Germany and the Netherlands before trying his hand in Sydney seven years ago.
Having fallen in love with the Pacific Ocean, during weekdays he would live the life of a corporate high-flyer and at the weekends sought to fine-tune his photographic skills.
By 2013 he figured he had had enough of corporate life and decided to go pro. His first shoot was for the Frothers Gallery, a space that specialised in ocean imagery based in the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney. Having met one of the owners during a surf trip, he was invited to become a regular contributor. He began getting commercial assignments soon after, eventually finding a niche in seascape, landscape and extreme adventure-type shoots.
In the ensuing years his work has been seen everywhere from the Daily Telegraph and the Sydney Morning Herald, to sports adventure magazines such as 18 Seconds Magazines and The Kite Mag. Recently, some of his wedding work from 2016 found its way into the Australian edition of Harper’s Bazaar.
Franck has been working with Nikon gear for around eight years after being presented with a Nikon D90 camera body and a NIKKOR AF-S DX 18-105mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR lens by his wife and parents as a 30th birthday present. A month later, he purchased a NIKKOR AF-S DX 35mm f/1.8G, and a wide angle a little after that.
He credits the brand with rebirthing his passion for his photographic work.
“I’m glad I started with Nikon, because I’m very impressed with the innovative stance that Nikon currently displays in the world of photography. Some innovations like in the D850 are ground-breaking in a lot of ways – I hope I’ll be able to try one soon. It’s really hard to be disruptive in today’s technological and competitive world, but Nikon manages to find new ways to bring a lot more every time to its photographers.”
With Nikon bag in tow, Franck joined underwater exploration group Under the Pole as a photographer on its second exhibition during the winter in Greenland in 2015. Franck says the group collaborates with some of the best scientists in the world, who use the skills of deep divers, filmmakers, photographers, and the logistic platform that is the expedition boat in order to do their research.
It was this work deep under the icy water that Franck says afforded him the most exhilarating adventure of his career to date.
“It’s like everything is against you and yet, we humans, manage to find a way to get there. It’s super cold so you have to use the best polar equipment available. The ice is one metre thick, so we cut a few holes in the ice to be able to access the water, which can take hours. Then the water is -1.7ºC, and to bear the cold you use drysuits and under-garments. The diving gear freezes, so you have to pour boiling water on your equipment before jumping off into this tiny hole. All the signs seem to tell you from the start ‘don’t go out there, not made for humans’ but we went, and it was one of the most incredible experience of my life, as a man and as a photographer.”
Earlier this year he was invited to join the Under the Pole (UTP) team permanently where, in addition to taking the lead on anything involving imagery, he is now putting his various language skills to work through his role in international business development.
UTP’s third exhibition is a three-year journey around the globe from the Arctic to the Antarctic, going across the Pacific and the Atlantic and focusing on what Franck calls the ‘Twilight Zone’, the area between -50m to -150m below the surface. This zone is usually too deep for most divers and not deep enough for submersibles.
As well as being lead photographer on the project, it falls to Franck to work in close collaboration with its press agency to ensure that the images are always up to the standards required by topflight international magazines. In addition to managing the group’s extensive picture archive, Franck must also improve the quality of UTP’s domestic and international networks to demonstrate the important conservation work the group is undertaking. He is hopeful this as well as showing internationally will lead to a museum in Sydney exhibiting images of the group’s work.
What’s in Franck’s bag:
- The Nikon D5 camera body and NIKKOR AF-S 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR and NIKKOR AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II lenses. I can do a lot with this kit. If I were forced to only travel super light, this would be my absolute minimum go-to kit.
- Currently I shoot with: 2 x D810s, a D5 and a D4s camera body. I also use a NIKKOR AF Fisheye 16mm f/2.8D, 2 x NIKKOR AF-S 14-24mm f/2.8G ED, 2 x NIKKOR AF-S 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR, a NIKKOR AF-S Micro 105mm f/2.8G IF ED (1:1) VR, a NIKKOR AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II, a NIKKOR AF-S 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR alongside my dive-housing for my D5 and D810s. One camera is set-up underwater with a wide angle and one camera is usually set-up underwater with a macro lens. I also have a few KeyMission 170 and KeyMission 360 cameras.
- The reason for this long list is simple: I shoot every type of photography all the time: from underwater, to reportage, portrait, landscape or wildlife. I could be shooting reportage-style images with a super wide angle inside the confined space of the boat (14-24mm), and be called on the deck as a polar bear is within camera reach from the boat (200-500mm). You can’t miss a shot because you’re opening cases to find gear and swap lenses. You ought to be ready within seconds at all times, and for every situation. This means that in any normal circumstances, I would need a minimum of three bodies (two for everyday use and one for back-up). I need even more redundancy because of the scientific and exploration dives, especially when I am in polar environments.
- The cameras need to be set-up in the dive-housings a fair while before the dive. To be safe, this operation needs to be done inside the boat in a controlled environment, without gloves. Before the dive, I need to give the housings enough time to indicate that they are watertight. Then, after the dive, it’s not like you can just open the dive-housings and get your hands on the cameras again, nor can you bring the kits from a cold and dry environment into a warm and much more humid cabin inside the boat. So, I need to leave the cameras inside the dive-housings to warm up in the boat cabin before actually taking them out.
- Altogether, going diving usually hogs two bodies and two lenses for several hours, repeatedly. You can’t plan when you will take your best shots of the expedition. It could happen just after coming back on board, or just before the dive.
- The other aspect is the fact that I am in a risky business for the gear: diving with a camera, being on a boat at all times with ropes and winches surrounded by saltwater, jumping on a dinghy, climbing on the top of a 60ft mast to find new angles, or shooting during a storm in rough seas make the likelihood of losing equipment very real. And trust me: getting a replacement kit in the High Arctic is definitely not an option.
[Words: Tracey Porter]