Our Oceans Aren’t the Only Ones in Danger

November 7, 2011

By Jacqui Palumbo

© Adam Taylor

One of three campaign images that aims to raise awareness of the damage that deposited human waste causes to both oceanlife and mankind.<br />

Adam Taylor is an Australian advertising photographer represented by Glasshouse Assignment. An avid skateboarder and surfer, Taylor picked up photography at 15 when he began shooting his friends skateboarding in black and white 35 mm film. At 19, Taylor had to reevaluate his direction in life when an injury prevented him from pursuing a professional career in surfing. Photography, which had been a hobby, moved to the forefront of his focus.

After years spent obtaining a photography degree and extensive travels around the world to assist photographers and explore his own personal voice, Taylor’s status as an acclaimed photographer has blossomed. Taylor says he is “drawn to human interaction and our restless search for a place in the world,” and he has translated that sense of longing and vastness into his work. He has been awarded gold and silver at Cannes and a place in Luerzer’s Archive as a Best Advertising Photographer Worldwide four years running.

To add to his collection of honors is the 2011 Advertising Photographer of the Year Award from the International Photography Awards (IPA) for his campaign “Our oceans aren’t the only ones in danger” for client the Surfrider Foundation. Collaborating with Leo Burnett Sydney creative directors Andy Dilallo and Mark Harricks, art director Brendan Donnelly, and copywriter Guy Futcher, the talented team produced a series of haunting and gritty advertisements that show the effects of pollution on ocean wildlife, and consequently, mankind.

The creatives from Leo Burnett Sydney approached Taylor after working with him a handful of times. Taylor had spent some time traveling with them the year before while on a job for Australian Tourism. He also surfs with Donnelly and Futcher, who share his love for the immenseness of the ocean. After seeing the mockups of Donnelly’s concept, he instantly began to visualize how he would translate them into photographs.

The concept was to take the typical image of fatally injured oceanlife and to replace the sea creatures with humans. Instead of birds trapped and dying in the sludge of oil, a daughter cries over her deceased mother, both covered in oil. A man floats underwater, bound by the plastic rings that entrap fish and other animals. A skeleton lies on the beach, its entrails made of garbage. Taylor explains, “By replacing creatures such as turtles or seals with actual people, we had a bold idea to lead with and one that effectively hit home the key campaign message that we all suffer from the harmful consequences of polluted oceans and waterways.”


The team all agreed on the importance of authenticity and immediacy. Taylor chose to work in a documentary style, with little reliance on retouching except what was necessary to achieve the execution of the concepts. He shot the project with a 35 mm digital camera and relied on minimal artificial lighting. The aim was to evoke a raw and impactful atmosphere.

Each scene was shot in a different location and presented its own challenges. As surfers, Taylor, Donnelly and Futcher were privy to the knowledge of perfect locations along the Australian and New Zealand coastlines. The beachscape for the oil slick layout was photographed on the coast of New Zealand in the winter. The freezing climate and desolate area created a rugged atmosphere that set the tone for the gritty message. The mother and daughter were photographed separately in a studio in Sydney and then digitally placed in the scene. Real oil could not be used on the talent, so Donnelly and Futcher also took on the role of scientists and concocted a formula of heated molasses, honey and vegemite after countless attempts to counterfeit oil in a realistic yet harmless formula.

For the underwater image, the team travelled to the south coast of NSW to an ocean pool at the base of the cliff. “Photographing underwater is never straightforward,” Taylor says. The turbulent waves achieved the look of a body being brought in by the tide, but created a violent setting to work in and limited the amount of communication with the talent.

The last shoot took place at a beach 3 hours south of Sydney. They had outsourced the production of the skeleton, and the distressing process took three weeks to achieve the authentic look they required for the image. Leaving the beach with an untouched look also proved challenging, resulting in the hiring of a high-powered leaf blower to backtrack over any steps made by their feet.

Taylor found that the success of the campaign was owed to their preparation, research and discussion. “We all believed in the strong, uncomplicated concept and shared a vested love for the ocean,” he says. He and Donnelly hope that the campaign will encourage society to eradicate the depositing of human waste and debris into our oceans.

“Our oceans aren’t the only ones in danger” can be seen in surf industry publications including Australian Longboarder, Surfing World Magazine, Sufers’ Path, Surfing Life, Curl, and New Zealand Surfer along with Surfrider.

To see more of Adam Taylor’s work, visit his Web site.