If there’s a glass ceiling to how insane your photo shoots can get before you aren’t able to pull them off anymore, Benjamin Von Wong smashed it years ago.
Underwater fashion shoots on a shipwreck in Bali, long exposure fire painting with a freaking smartphone camera, and a fairy tale photo shoot in the oldest monastic library on Earth sounds less like one man’s CV and more like a “you should probably tone it down a bit” bucket list of crazy ideas—but Ben has pulled them all off one after the other.
And recently, he took crazy to new heights (or rather depths) when he teamed up with Ballantine’s to capture a cormorant fisherman portrait… 30 meters underwater… on top of a toxic underwater river of hydrogen sulfide.
Ben left wishful thinking behind long ago… these days ideas attack him before he even has a chance to worry about whether or not they’re possible. This Ballantine’s shoot is a great example of an opportunity coming to him.
As he explains in his BTS blog post about this photo shoot, he was handed an incredibly rare clean slate:
A couple months ago, Ballantine’s approached me with the most amazing assignment ever:
“We love what you do and want to support you as part of our Stay True campaign. Is there anything you’d like to do that you’ve never done before?”
To receive such complete freedom from a client is almost unheard of – add onto that a budget for both the production and creative teams?
Now that was a dream job come true.
So what does he decide to do? He’s already done a fashion shoot on an underwater shipwreck, the next step had to be even crazier:
I had this great idea: To recreate the iconic scene of a young Chinese cormorant fisherman hard at work on a bamboo raft – shot 30 meters underwater in a cenote just above a toxic layer of hydrogen sulfide.
This is NOT a Photoshop creation. Ben and the team of 35 he worked with—which included world leading divers, set builders, and a world champion free diver—dove 30+ meters down into a cenote in Tulum, Mexico where they set up Ben’s dream shoot atop a natural, milky-white underwater river made of toxic hydrogen sulfide.
As Ben says in the video above, “What really works in an image is when people cannot tell what is real… when those lines get blurred.”
More so than ever, this photo shoot blurred the lines between reality and fantasy, placing an Earth-bound fisherman on top of an underwater river in what the Mayans literally considered a portal to the underworld.
We’ve included the final images and the Ballantine’s BTS “Making-Of” video below, but do yourself a favor and head over to Ben’s blog to dive into the details behind this incredible shoot. You won’t regret it.