Six years ago, a natural disaster changed the course of Ryan Borne‘s life. The then 19-year-old photographer and filmmaker’s island home in the French Caribbean Islands was struck by Hurricane Irma and he was forced to reevaluate his life. “I stopped my studies after graduating from high school,” explains Borne. “College was not for me and I wanted to help my family recover from the hurricane. I was lost and didn’t know what to do. I had just given up on my childhood dream of being a fighter pilot, I didn’t want to continue my studies, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. Everything around me was destroyed but I saw this time as being a big reset mentally and physically.”
So, he took a major career leap, realizing his hobby was the very thing he wanted to do full-time. “I took the first job I found at a company to remove trash and do handling work,” says Borne, now based in Mo’orea. “I was only getting into photography as a hobby. After a couple of months, I realized that I was earning my own money and I could keep doing that job that I didn’t like forever, or I could try to start a career in photography. I remember telling myself ‘Ok, if you really want to escape your job and be a photographer don’t half-ass it, you have to commit and go all in,’ so I took all the money I had in my savings and bought my dream camera: a Canon 1DX Mk ll that I still use today.”
Today, Borne’s work captures the ocean, marine life, and nature. “I focus most of my work on nature, the ocean, its creatures, its people, and its protection,” adds Borne. “Because I truly believe that by showing the beauty of nature we can make people to want to protect it.
Your big break in becoming a photographer?
RB: We’re in February 2019, I have a full-time job, I still drive a trash truck and do any kind of handling work [not the best job but it taught me so much about work ethic and allowed me to save and buy more photo and video gear.] I do freelance photography during my free time and plan on going part-time soon. But I feel very lonely and struggle with depression. I remember being blown away when seeing Coral Gardeners‘ photos on Instagram and always thinking ‘it would be so cool to get to work with these people they’re doing things differently.’ A couple of weeks later Coral Gardeners posted a volunteer opening for a photographer/filmmaker in their stories. I was so excited, I thought this was my chance and I didn’t apply. I was too scared and let my fears take control. I listened to my negative self- telling me that I was not good enough and I let this chance slip by. I was very sad and angry at myself for missing out on that opportunity, but I remember thinking that if that was really what I wanted then, it would happen in some ways. I just had to keep working and trust the process. I made a promise to myself that if another opportunity would arise, I would jump at it immediately. Flash forward to May 2019. These past months have been tough I really wanted to quit several times. I am sitting in my truck eating lunch, exhausted and scrolling through Instagram when suddenly, it appeared again. The exact same volunteer opening. I thought, ‘this time it’s for me.’ I immediately replied and started to chat with Coral Gardeners. I manage to get on a call two days later and meet Titouan Bernicot, the founder, for the first time. It felt like we knew each other for years and at the end of the call, he was like: “Ok, there’s a bed for you in our headquarters, It’s on.” I was beyond stoked. The next day, I quit my job and buy tickets to Mo’orea even though I had literally zero experience with underwater photography. Two weeks later I was landing on Mo’orea, embarking on an adventure that would change my life forever.
One of your favorite photography moments?
RB: I will always remember the first time I saw those stripes. I couldn’t take my eyes off them peacefully gliding through the crystal clear water of the Pacific Ocean. And the first time a shark came straight towards me, he was not turning until I gently redirected it, I was wide awake in my dream in complete awe in front of this animal with tears of joy filling up my mask.
Sharing a moment with these sharks is definitely one of the experiences I’m the most grateful for and that had a huge impact on me, it made me realize that “nature is art.” It’s definitely my version of the “Overview Effect ̈ experienced by the astronauts the first time they see the earth from space with their own eyes and they realize how fragile and precious the earth is, so they feel the urge to protect it. I wish everyone could experience this so they could see how wrong modern society portrays sharks. But since I know that not everyone will have the privilege to encounter these creatures, I hope to get people involved in their protection by giving them a new way to look at these creatures, by sharing my vision of the ocean through visual arts. To me, conservation is being the voice of those who cannot speak up for themselves and that goes from corals to sharks and whales and so on. Obviously, they don’t have a voice, but that’s why we have to be theirs.
I used to be terrified of nature, particularly the ocean, until I realized that humans are actually the ones harming nature and I am one of them. The good news is that we can be the solution too, not just the problem.
Humans kill approximately 100 million sharks every year (that’s about 200 per minute.) A high percentage of these sharks were initially captured just for their fins, and after those are poached, they are released into the ocean with no other choice than to slowly sink to death. As predators, sharks play a vital role in the health of marine ecosystems. Sharks indirectly maintain the seagrass and coral reef habitats. The loss of sharks has led to the decline of coral reefs, seagrass beds, and the loss of commercial fisheries. There are no healthy oceans without healthy sharks.
Your most significant photo in your collection, or one you love most, and why?
RB: This photo is the realization of a childhood dream. I took this photo in the South Pacific Ocean during my first encounter free diving with tiger sharks. Under the surface, we trade our breath for the right to step into their world and experience another dimension of life. They allow us in the place they call home, and the second you enter the water you are in their territory and you are responsible for everything that happens to you. While we are part of nature, we are certainly not owning it and we experience it at our own risk. That risk-reward balance is what makes it so beautiful and makes it worth exploring. You earn the right to experience the beauty of nature by having humility and accepting that you’re not in control of it. You are part of it.
What do you love most about photography?
RB: The fact that it allows me to create the life I’ve been dreaming of, and live on my own terms.
To discover more about Borne’s photography and purchase photos, visit Driftward.com.