Long-awaited Ocean Photography Awards and Female Fifty Fathoms winners revealed

Female Fifty Fathoms
Aimee Jan A green turtle, surrounded by glass fish. “I was out snorkelling when one of my colleagues told me there was a turtle under a ledge in a school of glass fish, about 10 metres down,” says photographer Aimee Jan. “When I dived down to look, the fish separated around the turtle perfectly. I said to her: ‘I think I just took the best photo I have ever taken’.” Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia
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In June 2021, Blancpain announced its partnership with Oceanographic Magazine and its Ocean Photography Awards (OPA). To mark the occasion, the Manufacture de Haute Horlogerie created the special Female Fifty Fathoms (FFF) Award to encourage more women to share their vision of the oceans. The competition organisers and Blancpain revealed the winners at an event held at the Brand’s London Boutique on Thursday 16 September. The event also marked the launch of a pop-up exhibition, which will run until 20 October at 11 Bond Street. In parallel, on 18 September, an open-air gallery will be set up along the Thames (The Queen’s Walk) to present the winning photographs to the general public with the aim of raising awareness of the beauty of the oceans.

The partnership between Blancpain and the OPA competition is part of the Blancpain Ocean Commitment, which brings together all of the Brand’s actions in favour of the oceans. Blancpain conducts numerous initiatives in favour of ocean exploration and preservation through this programme, which have already led to concrete results, notably by contributing to extending the surface of marine protected areas throughout the world by more than four million additional square kilometres. Blancpain is convinced that such results could not be achieved without collective engagement. It is thus indispensable to raise awareness of the ocean’s beauty and vulnerability. Underwater photography is one of the best ways to achieve this goal. The Ocean Photography Awards, whose mission is to reveal the beauty of the oceans – as well as the many dangers they face –, is an ideal partner in this respect and represents a continuation of the photographic and artistic projects previously initiated by Blancpain. One of the most telling examples is the annual Edition Fifty Fathoms publication (2008-2020), which aimed to explore the multiple facets of the underwater world through a camera lens while offering underwater photographers a platform for expression and communication.

Female Fifty Fathoms
Aimee Jan – winner Ocean Photographer of the Year
A green turtle, surrounded by glass fish. “I was out snorkelling when one of my colleagues told me there was a turtle under a ledge in a school of glass fish, about 10 metres down,” says photographer Aimee Jan. “When I dived down to look, the fish separated around the turtle perfectly. I said to her: ‘I think I just took the best photo I have ever taken’.”
Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia

The 2021 edition of the OPA met with strong interest from the ocean community, resulting in over 3,000 entries to the competition. The deliberation process for the competition’s six traditional categories, as well as the overall Ocean Photographer of the Year™ 2021 award, was conducted by a Jury composed of, among others, members of the SeaLegacy collective – the ocean conservation association in support of which the OPA are organised –, as well as specialist photographers and videographers.

Female Fifty Fathoms
Henley Spiers – second Ocean Photographer of the Year
“Diving in amidst the barrage of gannets, I witness the violent synchronicity of these impressive seabirds as they embark on fishing dives,” says photographer Henley Spiers. “They hit the water at 60mph, an impact they can only withstand thanks to specially evolved air sacs in the head and chest. The bird’s agility transfers from air to sea where it also swims with incredible speed.”
Isle of Noss, Shetland, UK

The competition’s overall prize was awarded to talented Australia-based photographer, Aimee Jan, who took a shot that is as beautiful as it is touching of a green turtle in a school of glass fish.

Female Fifty Fathoms
Matty Smith – third Ocean Photographer of the Year
“A hawksbill turtle hatchling just 3.5cm long and a few minutes old takes its first swim,” says photographer Matty Smith. “It had emerged from an egg just minutes earlier with approximately 100 of its siblings. They quickly made their way into the ocean to disperse as rapidly as they could and avoid predation from birds and fish. I had to work quickly for this shot.”
Lissenung Island, Papua New Guinea

In addition to the usual awards, this year’s edition of the OPA chose a photographer in a new category, entitled the “Female Fifty Fathoms Award” (FFF), in which competing photographers were all pre-nominated by someone for whom they are an inspiration, and were carefully evaluated by the Jury, as well as by Blancpain – whose President & CEO, Marc A. Hayek, has himself become an underwater photographer through his longstanding passion for the oceans.

Female Fifty Fathoms
Renee Capozzola – winner Female Fifty Fathoms Award
A lone blacktip reef shark lines up its dorsal fin with the setting sun in Moorea, French Polynesia. “This over-under image was achieved by using a wide-angle lens, a large dome port and strobe flash to illuminate the underwater portion of the picture,” says photographer Renee Capozzola. “Sharks are plentiful in French Polynesia due to their strong legal protections and are a sign of a healthy marine ecosystem.”
Mo´orea, French Polynesia
A blacktip reef shark – Carcharhinus melanopterus – lines its dorsal fin up with the setting sun. This over-under is a single in camera image taken in French Polynesia where sharks thrive due to their strong legal protections

Out of more than 100 nominations, 12 finalists were shortlisted and invited to submit a portfolio of ten ocean shots to showcase their work as a whole. The portfolio was the main judging element for the artists, but close attention was also paid to their achievements along with their commitment and ability to inspire others to take action on behalf of the oceans.

Female Fifty Fathoms
Aimee Jan – second Female Fifty Fathoms Award
A manta ray feeds in calm waters. “We were out on a humpback whale tour when manta rays were spotted line feeding, swimming back and forth on the surface scooping up huge mouthfuls of plankton,” says photographer Aimee Jan. “On this day there was no wind – we call this a glass off because the surface of the water looks like glass. We got in for a swim and it was just beautiful. I took a few photos. This one was my favourite.”
Exmouth gulf, Western Australia

The FFF award was won by Renee Capozzola, an American photographer and biology teacher who takes a special interest in marine conservation. She believes that underwater photography is a powerful way to bring to light the magical world that lies beneath the water, and her work often focuses on turtles and sharks. “Sharky Sunset”, one of the photos in her portfolio that particularly appealed to the Jury and Blancpain, depicts both sky and ocean dominated by a blacktip reef shark (Carcharhinus melanopterus) – representing a species whose abundance is a sign of a healthy marine ecosystem.

Emily Ledwidge A leopard shark slowly swims away on the Ningaloo Reef. “In this chaotic world we should be taking the time to consider what is important,” says photographer Emilie Ledwidge. “What is important to us? What is important to Mother Earth? Sharks continue to be fished, finned, culled and hated by much of the world’s people. Their populations continue to fade and yet this is one species that we as humans cannot live without.” Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia
Emily Ledwidge – third Female Fifty Fathoms Award
A leopard shark slowly swims away on the Ningaloo Reef. “In this chaotic world we should be taking the time to consider what is important,” says photographer Emilie Ledwidge. “What is important to us? What is important to Mother Earth? Sharks continue to be fished, finned, culled and hated by much of the world’s people. Their populations continue to fade and yet this is one species that we as humans cannot live without.”
Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia
The endangered leopard shark swimming through the waters of the Ningaloo Reef. It is a sad realisation when an animal as harmless and as beautiful as the leopard shark is being driven to extinction because their fins are being sold in the shark finning industry. Shark fins are more valuable on a shark than off.

As a reward, Renee Capozzola was presented with the first example of a new model from Blancpain‘s Fifty Fathoms collection. The blue watch bears the serial number 1 and its case is engraved with the words “FFF Award 2021”.

Female Fifty Fathoms
Andrea Caputo, Blancpain Vice President and Renee Capozzola, winner Female Fifty Fathoms award

Introduced by Blancpain in 1953, the Fifty Fathoms is the world’s first modern diver’s watch. It was created by Jean-Jacques Fiechter, then co-CEO of the company and an avid diver. With a particular admiration for women divers because of their ability to outperform men in terms of immersion time, Fiechter was aware of the need for a reliable timekeeping instrument for exploring the underwater world.

Female Fifty Fathoms
Renee Capozzola wearing the new Fifty Fathoms

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