For over 150 years, the Salon des Beaux Arts exhibition, a major artistic and cultural event organised by the National Society of Fine Arts (SNBA) of France, has exhibited the greatest names in painting, sculpture, engraving and has been at the forefront of art development, keeping a watchful eye for new reflections on the art of each era.

This year, for the first time in the history of this show, the National Society of Fine Arts of France has invited an underwater photographer, Vincent Truchet, to exhibit his work at the Salon des Beaux Arts exhibition. A world famous diver, underwater photographer and past speaker at ADEX Singapore, Truchet’s work will be exhibited from December 13 to 16, 2018 at the Carrousel du musée du Louvre in Paris, France.

Founded by Theophile Gautier in 1861 as an association of independent artists which accommodated all artistic expressions and taught artistes to do their own business, the Salon des Beaux Arts has selected Truchet’s evocative photographs of manta rays for its exhibition.

Vincent tells us the story behind his pictures of manta rays taken in French Polynesia:

A photo of a shark's gills (Photo by Vincent Truchet)

At the time in Tikehau Lagoon, there was a manta ray cleaning station. I dived there every day for more than four years. A dozen rays frequented the spot daily. By dint of photographing them, I decided, out of sheer curiosity, to undertake an identification assignment. I quickly collected thousands of images, identifying more than 140 individuals. Among them, I recognized 30 by simple visual identification and especially one in particular that I had seen for the first time while she was still very young. It did not exceed 1.5 metres in wingspan (a manta ray at birth is between 1.20 and 1.40 metres in wingspan). During the four years spent consecutively on this atoll, this was the manta ray that I spent the most time around. And the few times I did not see her diving at the cleaning station, I found her at night close to the jetty of the village, coming to feed on the plankton attracted by the artificial light of public lighting.

A shark's eye (Photo by Vincent Truchet)

It’s amazing to see a wild animal evolve and grow over the years. The last time I saw Téa, that’s the name we gave her, it was in 2017. Up until now, I had only met her in the lagoon, but for our last meeting, she had joined the ocean and had grown to over three metres in wingspan.

Had she grown old enough to venture into the big blue at last? Had she returned to the lagoon since? I do not know yet but I cannot wait to dive back to Tikehau to find out.

A snippet of Vincent Truchet's photo series on manta rays. (Photo by Vincent Truchet)

What was especially amazing with Téa was her behaviour. She came to play in the bubbles of the divers, revelling in those curious things she had not been wary of for a long time. Our instructions to the divers that we supervised, being also dive masters, were simple and strict: “We stay at a distance, we land on the bottom of sand and let the animals come to us. Never force the encounter.” There was no need to wait a long time with Téa. She came to be placed a few metres above a diver, stopped in the flow of bubbles and then let herself gently “sink” until she came crashing on the skull of the lucky diver; then enjoying the comfort of his hair by scratching it! Every diver who has had this experience with Téa or any other manta ray in the world has an undying memory, I am sure.

I spent more than a thousand hours underwater in contact with these incredible animals. It must be said that the site was shallow, between zero and eight metres. The day I made these photos, I stayed more than six hours on the spot, emptying three tanks consecutively. I know it’s hard to believe but Téa was there as soon as I started in the morning. I spent my first tank with her. Worried about losing her when I was back on the boat changing my tank, I acted as quickly as I could but I needn’t have worried. Téa had remained under the boat. I had the pleasant feeling that she was waiting for me. Then I made my second dive without leaving her for more than two minutes. Other manta rays passed by. Téa was going to pay them a visit and we met again as soon as her fellow mantas went away. That’s how I spent my longest dive with the same animal, reiterating the same experience at the second tank change. Luckily, no other diver or boat came to the spot that day. We were alone, Téa and me.

A snippet of Vincent Truchet's photo series on manta rays. (Photo by Vincent Truchet)

A few years later unfortunately, the site and the manta rays were victims of their success. In spite of the very clear instructions from the divers about the approaches to the mantas, excessive attendance and unsuitable behaviour of snorkelers, in particular towards the animals, forced them to desert the site. Of course there are always some that go by but nothing comparable to what we experienced in the time when there were quiet and respectful tourists. In short, to live happily, let’s live in hiding.

Maybe one day I will meet Téa again, in the meantime I keep preciously the photos she gave me and all my memories to not forget her.

Bio

A resident in French Polynesia since 2010, having spent more than eight years in the Tuamotu Archipelago, particularly on the atoll of Tikehau, Vincent Truchet’s passion for the ocean was first ignited by his diving experiences in the French coastal waters in Normandy on the wrecks of the world war in the Mediterranean Sea, both on the continent and on Corsica island. But it is in Polynesia, however, that his work as a photographer matured and began to be published. Truchet has collaborated with Swiss watchmakers such as Blancpain (he was one of the photographers for their 2016 Fifty Fathoms Edition) and Breitling (his work has been used for the Breitling SuperOcean watch). His images have also been used for the advertisement campaigns of Canon and in commercial collaterals like the annual calendar produced by BBC Wildlife.

About the 2018 Salon

The National Society of Fine Arts continues its tradition of encouraging and supporting artists of all stripes by organizing its exhibition each year at the Salon at the Carrousel du Louvre. It is today presided over by Michel King, Official Painter of the Navy.

During its four-day duration, the show invites the public to discover for free 600 international artists: painters, sculptors, photographers and engravers. The show brings together French artists and a dozen foreign delegations (Canada, China, South Korea, Japan, Norway, Slovenia, Switzerland, Turkey) which exhibit the formal singularity of artists over 2000 m2 of exhibition space.

The curator of the exhibition is Catherine Severac, who is a painter, and Isabelle Lawson, executive director of SNBA. The jury is made up of members of the SNB office.

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