Lots of teenagers talk about taking a “deep dive” into their passions.
For 17-year-old Ganden Medved-Po, eldest son of Century Pacific Group’s Chris Po and philanthropist Nanette Medved-Po, that deep dive is quite literal: he was scuba diving and focusing on underwater photography in places such as Palawan, Anilao and Club Paradise as early as age 10.
Those two passions have now resulted in a coffeetable book titled Life Below Water, featuring scores of images taken by Ganden, with the help and mentorship of celebrated underwater photographer Scott “Gutsy” Tuason.
Also running deep, even at 17, is Ganden’s commitment to the environment. All proceeds from this book will go to the World Wide Fund for Nature Philippines (WWF-Philippines) to fund sustainable fisheries, in particular in Laguna Gulf, where the fishing industry has been hard hit by COVID and typhoons this past year.
WWF-PH executive director Trin Custodio says, ‘Life Below Water is a young person's experience of the ocean, expressed through his chosen art of photography and a reminder of why, what, how and for whom we do our work of protecting the oceans.’
In Life Below Water, Ganden captures beautiful images, in every variety of underwater setting: there are close-up fish photos, of course, but also shipwrecks, wide-angle reef scenes, topside shots and spectacular blackwater photos (those are night-dive shots using special lighting to capture deep-water bioluminescent plankton, algae and sea creatures).
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Ganden credits his parents with introducing him to nature and the ocean, and it was an early experience in Subic that made him more environmentally aware and proactive. “We were at Subic, and there was a dolphin that got stranded and the WWF people came to the scene and helped, and I also tried to do my part to help. That was my very first interaction with WWF as an organization.”
Says WWF-PH executive director Trin Custodio, “So many of us crave that connection with nature. Life Below Water is a young person's experience of the ocean, expressed through his chosen art of photography and a reminder of why, what, how and for whom we do our work of protecting the oceans.”
Custodio notes that, for this project, the proceeds will directly benefit Laguna fisheries. “A lot of work in this area is to help secure the livelihood of those fishermen by promoting sustainable fishing practices, and by connecting local fishing communities to buyers who offer better prices for sustainably caught fish. We've conducted training for them and we are expecting very soon that this community fishery will be the first in the country to receive Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification. This will be a boost to the local fishing community.” The MSC eco-label brings higher market value for caught fish.
Ganden started getting really interested in artistic photography at age 10 or 11. His current camera of choice is the Sony Rx100.
Gutsy, a veteran underwater photographer, was impressed with Ganden’s early commitment. “I don't get a lot of people at the shop his age, looking for underwater cameras, so it was really quite refreshing to have Ganden come over there with his mom wanting to start his underwater photography journey, at a time when most tweens are probably only talking about starting their TikTok adventure.” Gutsy adds that “Ganden had talent from the beginning. You’ve got to have an eye first. The technical stuff just follows.”
Gutsy does note that underwater photography is “a big commitment. It's not just a matter of putting your iPhone in a housing and then just going underwater and expecting to shoot great photos. It's very technical, and it takes a lot of time and effort.” But otherwise, the mechanics of taking a great underwater shot come down to the same principles: “Learning your subjects, learning about their behavior, and learning to be patient.”
Some of Ganden’s favorite images in the book are the flamboyant cuttlefish he shot in Anilao, and one of an octopus he hung around with for 20 minutes. Inspired by the Netflix doc My Octopus Teacher, he found it “really interesting, seeing the way they actually interact around people. That was a firsthand experience of how amazing the ocean is, and how evolution has kind of changed how people interact, how the animals interact, and the human influence we've had on wildlife.”
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Ganden is also a National Youth Counselor for WWF-Philippines, helping to create wildlife videos for the organization, including for International Youth Day, International Indigenous Peoples’ Day, and for the World Conservation Nature website. “I look forward to doing more projects with my team, and I hope that members of the International Youth Council are motivated by my book to keep growing and keep doing great things as a group.”
Nature was the siren that lured him early on to the water: “From a young age I was raised on the water, often brought to the Philippines beaches as a child,” he says, adding that “photography has always been a part of my life and has captivated my heart almost equally, as much as the ocean.”
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The WWF-PH helped him understand the complex ways that humans interact with nature, and often accelerate threats to the environment. “Understanding the interconnection between my world and nature fueled my passion to make change, to protect the ocean. It all had to start with my own personal action.” He adds, for his own young generation: “Together, let's change the ending.”
Life Below Water will be available by the end of October 2021 on the WWF-Philippines website.