A Jacques Cousteau Photographer Talks With Shark Zen
Richard Hyman accompanied Jacques Cousteau as a photographer for about 200 dives. Clearly he’s experienced a lot with him. So much so that he has written a book called “FROGMEN The true story of my journeys with Captain Jacques-Yves Cousteau and the crew of Calypso”. I was fortunate to connect with Richard in the context of Shark Zen, and I thought it would be cool to explore some topics with him that might not be revealed in his book or past interviews. Here's what I discussed with him...
Sometimes when we get absorbed in taking great photographs the value of the moment's experience is sacrificed for the image. How did this come into play when taking photographs for Cousteau?
Although the experience was exhausting difficult work, I don’t think I sacrificed any of the beauty and wonder. I was a pretty naïve young man, who loved the sea, wildlife and adventure. I soaked it in, literally. Still, the most impactful aspect of every one of my four expeditions had to be the social aspect, the different nationalities, habits and behaviors, all in the microcosm of a 139-foot ship.
Aside from your Tiger Shark encounter during a wreck dive at the USS Monitor, what were the 3 most amazing sea life encounters you experienced with Jacques Cousteau and why?
- You might find this odd but the stone crab was one. Not that they were in themselves all that intriguing but the fact that as we were filming the stone crab fishermen they broke off both claws and tossed the helpless crabs back into the Gulf of Mexico, that was astonishing. The way it is supposed to be done is that you take one claw, off males only. The crab will live and the claw will regenerate. But if you take both claws the crab is defenseless and cannot feed itself, so it is doomed. The females are to be left alone, in tact but here too the fishermen took both claws. Greedy and ignorant, destroying their legacy.
- The coral reefs were always amazing, particularly the Belize Barrier Reef and surrounding Cays. I was particularly fascinated by the changeover of a myriad of sea creatures from day to night. Those retreating to their residence as others emerged, I found that interesting and beautiful.
- The dolphins were always so spectacular. Not necessarily while diving per se but when they’d join us, particularly when we were underway, that was a treat and most entertaining. I love the photo I took of them riding Calypso’s bow wave, which I feature on the cover of my book, FROGMEN. Speaking of being underway, I have to add mention of the flying fish. It was incredible how hundreds would be jumping from the sea as Calypso sailed forward. Often times a dozen or more fish would land aboard the ship.
Other than losing the engine during the storm at the Monitor, did you have a "close call" experience with Cousteau?
Yes, losing one of the two engines in heavy seas was life threatening. That was the first time I wondered where the life rafts were (nobody had ever told me).
I had a scary “close call” when I was shocked by electricity. The way it worked was that we had an electric generator in the Chaland, a workboat that would be at the surface above the dive team. Cable from the generator was attached to an underwater light. A diver would man the light, while a second diver would tend the cable. The tender’s job was to ensure enough slack for the diver who was holding the light, so they could effortlessly light a scene. At the same time it was important to prevent too much slack, as we didn’t want cable drifting into the scene being shot. Well, something went wrong.
The generator at the surface was grounded by an attached piece of metal hanging over the side of the Chaland. I was below, tending. Supposedly a wave knocked the ground into the boat thus losing the ground. I received a bad shock. The cable was sort of stuck to my hand. I could not let it go. The diver with the light came to my aid and knocked the cable out of my hand. I don’t know if any of this makes technical sense but it is what I was told happened.
You've described Cousteau Society diver Bernard Delemotte as having a sixth sense with sea life. Please describe an amazing moment you had with Bernard when he encountered sea life.
Oh wow. I guess what comes to mind is when Bernard really took me under his wing during our Martinique dives. It was just common for Bernard to approach fish. He’d stroke the larger ones. I’ve heard stories and seen film of him doing this with even larger sea creatures as well as topside with birds. Speaking of Bernard, I’ll make brief mention of his younger brother Patrick. He and I were close. Patrick died quite young. It was a car crash while on expedition in Africa.
Aside from the Spanish Galleons, is there anywhere you haven’t dived where you feel you have missed out, or that is on your bucket list?
Yeah, Joe and I wanted to dive for gold on the Galleons. But he’s gone now. I would like to dive The Blue Hole in Belize. Cousteau did dive there of course but that was just ahead of my time.
What's holding you back from diving the Spanish Galleons, perhaps in honor of your Calypso friend, Joe?
Wow, good question. What’s holding me back? Well, I suppose a conventional career. I’d still love to do it, as you say in honor of Joe. I’d of course need a buddy or two in order to pull it off. Perhaps you’ve just sparked a flame.
Is there anything interesting that you care to share about your relationship and experiences with Cousteau that you haven't described in your book or past interviews?
I tried to share my feelings in FROGMEN. I guess I’d reiterate that Captain Cousteau was the real deal. He wasn’t perfect but who is? I greatly respected him and it is phenomenal how he accomplished so much with so little. I am working on a new book that is focused on Cousteau’s business. That will offer many new interesting insights.
I must note that when Richard was asked to choose which shirt from Shark Zen he would most like to wear, he chose the Shark Zen Performance Shirt in Safety Yellow.
For more background and to fill in the many blanks in this blog post about Richard's fascinating experiences with Jacques Cousteau, sit down with his book “FROGMEN The true story of my journeys with Captain Jacques-Yves Cousteau and the crew of Calypso”. Thank you, Richard, for the great conversation.