“To look into a whale’s eye was one of the most spiritual things I have ever done.”
– Chris Leidy
It’s been a long time coming since I wanted to do an edition centered around whales. Never in my life have I come across a being so energetic and outerworldy. A mysticiscm and intelligence surrounds this animal that is unparalleled.
When it came time to pick this month’s Funga cover artist, the first person that came to mind was Palm Beach native and dear family friend, photographer Chris Leidy. He has the most spectacular gift for capturing life underwater and has had tremendous experiences with whales.
“Conquering fear, he approaches the deep sea with a humble respect finding his solace as he dives there. In mysterious and unpredictable depths in landscapes with extraordinary beings of the ocean, he takes his photographs.
During his vast exploration of the oceans in Micronesia, Papua New Guinea, Tonga and all over the water bearing world, Chris has attracted the attention of serious art collectors, ocean enthusiasts, and environmentalists.”
Get in contact with him here.
Tell me about your journey as an artist?
The love of the underwater was instilled in me from super early. I would go down to the Bahamas and dive as a kid. I always knew that I wanted to be involved with the ocean in one way or another; I just didn’t know to which capacity until I went to film school. After that, I worked in LA for a while and then in New York for eight years. Towards the end of that whole film world experience, I knew if I was to combine my two loves – water and camera – I could be happy in my heart and create something cool.
I started with motion film first and put a lot of money into equipment. I shot everything from whale sharks to dives and made a reel which I gave to boat captains around the docks here. I was trying to get hired to video their fishing charters. So I would film the fight from underwater when they hooked a marlin, for example. That was my mentality of how I was going to get into it. Fox Sports hired me for a couple of years to do a tv-show but gave away all of my footage to a production company, meaning I was left without anything. So that’s when I decided to turn to photography. Keep it underwater, but keep it still. Immediately I felt I had an eye different than what I saw 15 years ago at the beginning of my quest. I was shooting more abstract stuff than other people at the time. I niched myself, which I am happy to do. Usually, I wouldn’t want to be in a little corner, but within my world, I feel like I can decorate that corner very cooly. I feel like there is a lot of room to work within that corner. I am an abstract guy, and I like my pictures not to be that obvious. Tying that in with psychedelics, nothing is fucking obvious.
When I am tripping, everything is not obvious but extremely obvious at the same time. On the one hand, you are like, “What am I looking at?” but simultaneously, you can feel the intent and the message.
A lot of divers that take photographs miss the small stuff, but I find myself honed in on precisely that. Whether it is bioluminescent or a texture, you can get lost on the tiniest thing, which, to me, is hugely psychedelic.
What was your most memorable diving experience?
I can think of so many.
One time, my mother, brother, and I watched a humpback whale that had just had a calf in the Tanga Islands which is on the migratory path of the humpback. They come down to Fiji, then to Tanga to give birth and strengthen the calf, and then they travel back up to the Arctic.
The calf we saw, maybe a week old, was floating on the surface, and the mother was hovering right under its baby, balancing it just above the water so it could breathe. The mum fell asleep while holding the baby, which allowed us to watch this scene for close to an hour. To witness that tender, motherly behavior from something so massive was quite indescribable.
Looking into the eye of a whale, a creature that is so smart, you really get the sense it is seeing your soul. The feeling is very tethering when you are staring at it, and it is staring back at you.
Another time, I had a really spiritual dolphin experience. I was diving around on my own in French Polynesia when I heard high-pitched speaking, dolphin chatter. When I turned around, the dolphin was behind me in a vertical Christ posture, mirroring my position. This was a completely wild dolphin, but he let me pet him down his chin and belly. We were having a beautiful moment, doing a little dance for about three minutes, when I realized I was so in the moment that I hadn’t even taken one photograph. As I was framing up his fins and head and got a shot, it snapped him back to reality, and he took off. I have often spoken about this moment because it was such a profound, wordless energy swap.
Were you ever in a very dangerous situation?
The first thing that came to my mind was when I was diving up in the Arctic. There were no animals I was scared of, but I was just completely out of my element. I had never put on a drysuit, so I went up to British Columbia for a week to get aquatinted with cold water diving. After that, I went to the Arctic and did a completely solo three-week diving expedition on the ice with a couple of Inuit men and dogs with sleds. We would drill a hole in the ice, and I would tie myself with a rope held by an Inuit guide at the edge of the opening. The guy would hold the line tight so that there was no slack between him and me so that when there was an issue, we could utilize our tugging system to communicate with each other. One tug meant all good, two tugs meant I needed more slack, and three tugs meant to get me out.
When I went down, I had imagined the water to be mellow and that I would float around. I hadn’t anticipated that because it is an open ocean, you are floating on top of currents. So when I went down the ice, I flew away with the current. Suddenly I found myself 300ft (the length of the rope) away from the hole. I looked down at my gauge, which was draining air, and started frantically tugging on the line. The guide started pulling me, but I kept getting tangled in giant ice boulders floating under the surface. My face was in the water, I had a raging headache because of the cold, and my teeth and gums were frozen. Weirdly my life wasn’t flashing before my eyes, but when I surfaced, it was quite emotional.
The Arctic generally was a very raw experience but incredible. The sun never sets, so if it was 1 in the morning or 5, it doesn’t really matter. We would go out and drill holes in the ice as we felt like it.
Another dangerous situation was coming up from a dive in the Bahamas and realizing that our boat had left us behind. I was with my two twin uncles, Mack and Zach, and Barry, another friend. It was the last day, so we decided to go for a dive. Barry was the first to resurface, and when he was still floating in the same place after a while, I had a strange feeling, so I went to him. As I came up, he told me the boat had gone. Later we found out that our guide had been hungover and passed out. He should have watched out for us and followed the bubbles our tanks were making on the surface. The sea was like a sheet of ice that day, so he could have seen them a football field away, but when he woke up, he panicked when he didn’t see any sign of us and drove off in the opposite direction to go looking. The current started pushing us out into open water, and from a distance, we could see the island, which was only a strip by then, and the boat, which would appear and disappear again.
The craziest part was that the whole time we were floating, this huge tiger shark was coming from the ocean’s depths and trying to break the huddle we had made to stay together. We had spears and were kicking at the shark until it would go away. At one point, it got a fish from either Zach or Mack and would keep returning because he thought he would get more food. This situation lasted for three hours until the boat finally found us because of a yellow tank we were waving in the air. I was so angry I literally punched the guy.
Have you ever dived under the influence of a psychedelic?
I brought a vile of acid to Bali once and was using it during my dives in the Spice Islands – Next level! It was very calming and was more of a communicative thing. I felt like I was conversing with the rock. I had never done that before, but that was a very experimental time in my life, so I did it often and a lot. Every time it was a feeling of connectivity. Visuals aside, the sensation underneath (even if it is cheesy) is that we are all one and connected. That is the overpowering feeling.
What is your relationship to psychedelics now?
I am sober now, but I have had plenty of experiences in the past. My brother and I once did a toad ceremony at his house, which was very significant. It was very DMT-like, like looking through a kaleidoscope with many geometric shapes and fractals. I find it very hard to remember the experience, but the feeling is that of vastness, and you realize there is so much beyond what we are living in. The mentality is that life almost begins after we die. Other times doing DMT, I have felt that I have died, but never held fear around it. The sensation is that there is a God presence out there that is comforting you while you´re dying. It shows you what you have to look forward to.
It was emotional because there were many things that my brother and I were going through, so we did that together in the hope of reigniting. There was a lot that was accomplished. I was fully sobbing afterward, which I hadn’t done in a long time, and it felt like the most incredible release, almost like a straightjacket had been cut off my body, and I could breathe again. I find it hard to put in place in life what I learned during a psychedelic experience, but I do know that a stone was turned during that trip.
If you were a plant which one would you be?
I would be a Palm Tree. It lives in the tropics, and I am a tropical kid. It bears fruit and is a giver; it doesn’t need much, just a sturdy base, a homefront, and some water. It can weather storms, is strong and sturdy, and provides shade and comfort to those in need. Above all, it overlooks oceans in all the places I fucking love.