A young Bahamian underwater cinematographer and filmmaker has made a big splash in his field, thanks both to his extraordinary artistic talent and fearless communication with the King of the Deep.
If there is no Oscar for underwater filmmaking, there should be one. And the first winner would have to be André Musgrove. The work that this 24 year old freediver and artist does is nothing short of astounding. His videos combine superior aesthetic and technical qualities with meaningful stories, taking the viewer to a wondrous world of harmony with nature. And even more remarkable, almost all of his underwater film work is shot on a single breath.
Wait… let’s back up and tell André’s story from scratch. Because it is a story well worth listening to. It holds a lesson of what happens when you follow your heart, and a promise of a future career that will shape a generation and leave the planet a better place.
When you’re born in The Bahamas, like André was, the ocean becomes an integral part of your life. He was an expert swimmer by the time he could run, he learned to freedive before he studied his ABCs, and when he was six years old, his father took him spearfishing. At age eight he got his first camera with which he chased objects on dry land, followed by the purchase of his first basic GoPro camera in his mid teens. And this would start an eternal love affair with underwater photography, and the magical world below the surface of the Big Blue.
Knowing deep inside that diving and filming was what he wanted to do for a living, André then determinedly set about upgrading his equipment and perfecting its use. His vast knowledge of the best underwater locations and marine wildlife hotspots, gathered from his earliest youth, proved to be an immense asset in his first job, working for a dive shop and taking scuba tourists to shipwrecks, coral reefs, and shark dives.
That dive shop also served as a base for underwater film shoots, productions, and TV shows, which proved a great opportunity to network and hone his own photographic skills. Realizing that there was little originality in the underwater photos he saw, he set out to develop a style of his own, creating visuals that combined Neptune’s world with unexpected and surprising elements.
His natural instinct for artistry and composition quickly caught the eye of art directors and earned him some first commercial work. International brands including Discovery Channel, National Geographic, GoPro, Canon, Rolex and World Wildlife Fund (WWF) tapped him for projects.
It soon turned out that André is also a talented writer and storyteller. And within a very short time, he earned some high profile recognitions. In 2019 he was one of the creator awardees of the GoPro Million Dollar Challenge. And his short film “Child of the Cenote” – written, directed and edited by him, and starring French freediver Sabine Banon, garnered critical acclaim in several prestigious film festivals.
But while André enjoys his creative endeavours, and excels in them, he also has other ambitions. “I strive to use my imagery to share lesser-known truths about the underwater world and its inhabitants,” he says. His heart is in educating the world at large about ecological issues and the magical kingdom of water dwellers. And among them, he has a particular interest in sharks.
“Sharks are very misunderstood. People fear them. What I am trying to show is that they are not the dangerous or murderous creatures people think they are when you give them respect,” he tells us. He vividly remembers how on one of his free dives to a depth of 50 feet (16 m), two 13-14 ft. (3+ metre) tiger sharks came up to him, close enough to touch them. He looked straight in their eyes and saw no aggression, just curiosity. Meanwhile, hanging out with them has become second nature to André.
With his ease around sharks, it is no wonder that André has been tapped as The Bahamas’ ambassador for the Discovery+ Shark Week, an annual educational celebration of the awe-inspiring species.
The Bahamas is home over 40 types of sharks. While they are on the top of the food chain and don’t have natural predators, their worst threat comes from human activity such as commercial shark fishing and shark nets. Their fins are sought-after both in medicinal applications and for soup. Knowing their immense value in the evolutionary chain, The Bahamas protects its shark population to the greatest extent possible, seeking to educate the population and designating 32 National Parks spread over two million acres of ocean, tidal zones, and coastal land. André’s work has become a cornerstone in this pedagogic work.
While sharks have his particular attention, he wants to draw attention to the endangered state of the oceans of the world in general through his photography and films. This includes a closer look at daily decisions that have an impact on the environment – one’s own habits such as for instance the consumption of fish that is not on the endangered list, but also raising awareness for responsible commercial fishing practices, the protection of coral reefs, and measures to avoid oil spills.
His photos and videos are one way of doing so, but he is also building a fine art collection of his photography which will soon be available online. “I am not a big reader but visuals give me an emotional connection to ocean life. Today, ocean health and ocean preservation are paramount to the survival of humankind, and I hope that through my work I can get this message across,” he says. To this end he also collaborates with organizations dedicated to the cause, like the BNT (Bahamas National Trust) whose Ambassador he is.
It’s worthwhile remembering here that André, like his underwater artists but unlike most of his fellow filmmakers, does this kind of work on freediving – on breath hold. While most people would come up gasping for air within 20 seconds, he can stay down there – and work, direct, position himself for the perfect angle, and shoot, for minutes at a time. That is, he says, because he wants to be in unity with his environment and not disturb it through the use of oxygen bottles or even snorkels. Apart from the physical and mental fitness this requires, it also demands two other qualities: great patience and even greater reactivity.
With his athletic physique and model looks, André could easily appear on the cover of GQ but his true value lies within: his emotional intelligence, artistic sensitivity, and holistic view of the dots that connect the elements betray a maturity far beyond his tender 24 years. He is a tremendous ray of hope, and we cannot wait until the first ever Oscar winner in the underwater category is announced, because we already know his name will be André Musgrove.
All photos copyright André Musgrove, used with his kind permission