Attila Bicskos, Adventurer, Shark Diver, Animal Whisperer

I live my life in wanderlust, always looking for the next adventure. When I read about Attila Bicskos taking the first picture of a thresher shark giving birth, it gave me goosebumps. (See article HERE). I felt I had to find out more about this world which I am still exploring.

Bicskos is a scuba diver who has a penchant for natural history photography. He has seen macro and pelagic life all over the world. Who better to talk to about living the dream of adventures? If you are curious to know how magical his life is, read on. It’s my dream come true.

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1. What inspired you to get into photography?
I started exploring underwater with a hand spear in 1969 with a view to spear fish for sport and the dinner table. As time went on it became apparent that some of the fish I saw were amazing in every way, so when I began describing them to friends and family there seemed to be an air of disbelief surrounding my stories.

So, to prove to people what I actually had seen I decided to take some shots underwater. Easier said than done in those days, because there were very few camera rigs for sale, and most people who shot underwater built their own units.

I was walking past a Pharmacy in my home town of Canberra, when I saw a small half dome alloy housing with a flat perspex front in the shop window. I went in and was told it housed a Kodak 104 Instamatic camera. I put both camera and housing on Lay-by and after about a month owned them.

The first pictures were so bad that even I couldn’t recognise the fish amongst the kelp. I showed them proudly to a friend who commented, “I’m sure you’ll get better at this”!

After that I didn’t share any pictures until the shots were clearly recognisable, and that took some time I must admit.

2. When did you start diving?
I first ventured into fresh water with a mask and snorkel (the ones that had a ping pong ball at the top to stop water from entering) around 1960. I was armed with a modified broom handle to catch “yabbies” (freshwater crayfish), and I was partly successful. That then got me fired up and I became more adventurous.

3. Being underwater is alien to a large percentage of the world still. What do you tell people to raise awareness about what we are doing to our ocean?
I continually try to educate people about marine ecology and especially the necessity of marine parks and reserves. I embarked on the conservation trail in the 70’s with a push to have the Grey Nurse shark protected in NSW waters. It took a concerted effort by a number of prominent underwater biologists and photographers to make that happen. So I guess that is when my passion for sharks began, and continues through to this day. I have some qualifications in Environmental Management, so most of the articles I write about underwater usually have a strong conservation message.

I’m also fortunate enough to have a close relationship with print, radio and TV media, so I am able to covey my message across fairly quickly if I need to.

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4. What is the most fascinating mammal / fish you seen? Above and below water?
Well I find them all fascinating in their own way which is why I ‘m hung up on Natural History photography. On land I guess the Orangutan, because I had an encounter in Borneo where a mother and baby were in a distant tree and a bunch of photographers were shooting madly but the shots were obscured by the rainforest leaves so I don’t think any of them got good shots. I sat down on a log after the mob had left and started talking to the Orangutan, telling her she had a very beautiful baby and I would love to get a photo. After a few minutes she started toward me and ended in a small clearing where she sat on a branch and not only showed me her baby but allowed the baby to leave her on the branch. There is no doubt in my mind that that was as clear communication a human will ever have with a wild animal. I’ll never forget it!

Underwater I have had numerous interesting encounters. I have had a whale calf hit me on the head with its fin, which I must say was like being hit on the head with a plank of wood, the other was a Whale shark come under me from behind to lift me completely out of the water – a really weird sensation! And during a shark feeding frenzy, I had a Bull shark lunge out and rip my GoPro camera off my principal housing. I punched him in the head and he dropped it, so I got it back. He was a very unfriendly shark I must say.

But probably like the Borneo encounter, I had a Bottlenose Dolphin swim up to me, literally centimetres from my mask and look me straight in the eyes. I swear to this day that it looked into my soul. I was quite emotional for days after and still get goose bumps when I think about it.

5. What camera did you start using for underwater photography?
As I mentioned I started with a Sea-Tite housing made in Australia by Barry Davies, who latter became a close friend. I then purchased a Rollie Marine housing designed by Hans Hass and used that for years, along with the first Nikonos cameras and more housings from Sea-Tite. You have to remember that I am also a filmmaker so I was having film cameras housed as well adding to my arsenal.

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6. Your thresher shark picture had caught my eye, and you had said you didn’t realize the shark was giving birth until much later. What was your reaction to your own photo? Were you flabbergasted, shocked or delighted?
The Thresher shark shot is a bit odd. As you know I didn’t realize what I had until much latter and I didn’t allow myself to believe it was anything unusual. Even after Simon had verified it as a birth I still found it hard to believe. Imagine all the people that dive and take shots, someone must have done this before? In my case it had to go through a stringent set of evaluations and peer reviews before we could release it. That of course was vital to give it authenticity, but unfortunately won’t stop the detractors out there from criticizing it as a fake. Unfortunately I can’t change those views. I have a shot of it on my wall and I still find it hard to believe that I actually shot it. I guess when I give interviews to magazines like the Washington Post and it gets prominent world wide coverage, it really brings it all home.

7. Where are your favorite sites to visit?
I really like diving in Indonesia and the Philippines. The variation of dive sites, the diversity of the ecosystems make these places very special. Mind you I like diving most places, as long as the water is clear enough for me to take shots.

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8. Where are you off to next?
Probably back down to South Australia to finish a story on Leafy Sea Dragons – a vanishing species. Then around the middle of the year to the Philippines again to do a documentary and some articles on the Thresher Sharks.

9. Where was the most obscure place you have been for natural history photography?
That’s a hard one to answer because I’ve been to some really weird places and obscurity is really subjective.

I dived inside a limestone crater once that is fed by superheated volcanic vents, turning the water temperature at one level to 40oC. That was the most uncomfortable dive I have ever done.
Probably the most diverse landscape region I have been to was Namibia and Etosha national park was outstanding. The other is Botswana and Chobe national park where the elephants are the main feature in my opinion…just stunning. Lots of other stuff to see as well, but the elephants…aahh!

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Thank you Attila for sharing your stories with AznModern. We are always chasing the next thrill!

Ace is a freelance graphic designer who was born in Toronto, grew up in Hong Kong, and lived in Ottawa and Vancouver. She is attracted and addicted to adventures like rock climbing, scuba-diving and anything culturally and visually interesting. Ace is still looking for the perfect cup of coffee in the city to satiate her.

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