Sharks and People – Thomas P. Peschak
Thomas Peschak has written and photographed several wonderful books – Currents of Contrast, Lost World, South Africa’s Great White Shark, Wild Seas Secret Shores of Africa – and will hopefully produce many more. He is a trained marine biologist, but explains eloquently in the introduction to this book how he left science to devote himself full time to photographing the natural (mostly marine) environment, and man’s interaction with it, in the belief that he could make an important contribution to conservation efforts in this way. Unlike some of the other “conservationists” who we’ve encountered paddling in South African seas, Peschak’s assessment of the impact of his work is accurate, and as a rule he does not include himself in the images, which puts him way ahead of the pack (in my book, at least).
Like all of Peschak’s books, the photographs in Sharks and People are breathtaking. They are accompanied by succinct, scientifically up to date information encompassing the various aspects of our relationship with sharks. In the acknowledgements section at the end of the book he lists the various scientists and others who assisted with fact checking the book, as well as citing various studies and papers that provided the scientific information that he discusses.
Peschak does not attempt to whitewash the complexity of our relationship with sharks, and some of his photographs are disturbing and difficult to look at. He also details the impact of the shark nets in KwaZulu Natal – uncomfortable reading, but essential not to ignore or to simplify. This book is not a breathless injunction to save sharks based on feelings and appreciation of sharks’ beauty. Aesthetic appreciation is certainly there, but so is a clear eyed assessment of the dangers posed to one another by humans and sharks, and the role played by sharks in marine ecosystems.
The photograph on the cover of the book is this one, and Peschak explains its origins (some of that information appears here). On the back cover, you can see this photograph, which is not a composite or manufactured image, but was taken during the testing of a shark shield product in KwaZulu Natal.