Posted March 21, 2012, 4 p.m.
KOS – PROFESSIONAL SNAPPER By Francesca Fearon Despite her diminutive stature, Kos Evans has built a fearless reputation as one of the world’s most courageous marine photographers, having regularly swung from the dizzying heights of the yacht mast to capture a perfect photograph. A few years ago Kos Evans was the official photographer at the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup in Porto Cervo in Sardinia. To get one of her signature underwater shots of the world’s largest racing yachts she dived six metres below the surface and held onto the tether of one of the buoys used as a racing mark while she focused her camera. However, as the first yacht crashed ‘like a shark’ through the surface it sucked the buoy and her towards its keel and into the danger zone. ‘I suddenly stopped shooting to try to pull myself away from the fleet as they came round the mark as I didn’t want to get hit by a keel,’ she recalls. ‘It was very frightening.’ Kos got the picture, which was used in a worldwide campaign for Rolex, but vowed never to attempt a shot like that again in a racing environment. Kos is not easily frightened: she has dangled out of helicopters chasing the leaders in the Powerboat P1 series and been hoisted up the halyards of the tallest yachts in the world – including the 200ft mast of the Maltese Falcon, the largest and most advanced performance yacht in the world – with her trusty Canons around her neck. This feisty, petite, bubbly blonde has the adventurous spirit of a stuntwoman and the eye of an artist. Although she is an award-winning action sports photographer, and amongst the best in the marine world, Kos always tries to bring an artistic viewpoint to her breathtaking images. The sea is a constantly moving canvas and her quest is to capture the most challenging and elusive photographs of her subjects, whether a graphic image of the sails of a racing yacht, the rhythmical wave pattern of a powerboat crashing the surface of the sea, or an Olympic diver the split second before he launches himself. These kinetic images don’t happen by chance – they take a lot of planning. Predicting the dynamics of a photo-shoot or a fast moving sports event is as much a mental challenge as a physical one. ‘You are working on a moving platform shooting a moving subject, add in the waves that keep bobbing up between the shots, or crashing over your equipment, and you have a difficult mixture. It takes time and experience to work with the elements, to shoot between the troughs of the waves, balance yourself, keep the equipment dry and anticipate when the action is going to happen. There have also been some intriguing projects like working with the RAF and photographing a UN observer in Bosnia. She also shot the stills for the high-speed boat chase along the Thames for the opening sequence of the Bond movie ‘The World is Not Enough’, loaning the film crew her prototype Surfrider Interceptor (the boat the American CIA use to chase drug runners). ‘We had £500,000-worth of equipment on board and were dodging exploding cubes of Semtex, one of which nearly went off under the boat.’ At one point, Kos was sitting in the bow with the film cameraman when the director insisted they hold the shot until the last minute as the Interceptor was heading for the wall of a right-angle bend in Victoria Docks. When he said they could turn, it was too late, the prop was out of the water and the boat hit the wall causing considerable damage – but it could have been worse. After 29 years of danger doing action photography Kos recently took on a fresh perspective with her work. She launched a book in 2001 in which the Aga Khan wrote the forward, and she has just completed a project with the artist Pippa Blake, the widow of Sir Peter Blake the celebrated sailor and environmentalist who was murdered by pirates in the Amazon in 2001. The images were successfully exhibited and are a collaboration that portrayed photographic images blended with painted images. Pippa wielded her brush on the photographic surface and Kos used new techniques with Photoshop (something she has a love-hate relationship with) to create layers of the two elements. After her aerial and sub-aqua acrobatics this was a new challenge of a very different kind. Kos (she rarely uses her surname) was given her first camera by her grandmother when she was five, and started taking pictures on family holidays – not your conventional holiday snaps but photos of simple things like sewage pipes: ‘I would turn an ugly thing into something beautiful,’ she explains. She found the disused school darkroom and taught herself film developing skills. She shot her first powerboat while covering a race event on Lake Como when she was aged just 17. Much against the wishes of her lecturers, she chose sports photography while studying at the London School of Printing, but she found a mentor in the picture editor of a British broadsheet newspaper The Observer, Gary Woodhouse, and then Eamonn McCabe, fives-times winner of Sports Photographer of the Year and, later, picture editor at The Guardian, from whom she learned many of her technical skills. Her big break came when she was asked to photograph Peter de Savary’s America’s Cup campaign in 1983 aboard Victory. I was photographing the crew when one of them joked ‘Why don’t you go up there,’ pointing to the top of the mast. I did, but we were going upwind and the boat was heeling over and as it was pitching back and forth I got caught in the shrouds. However, I managed to get up there and get my feet out of the way [she suspends herself upside down] and took the pictures.’ She used to use Olympus cameras but switched to Canons (the 1DS and D5), despite their weight, because there were a larger range of sports lenses. ‘I use a Fish Eye, or a long lens like a 70-200mm, shooting down on the deck to get the detail shots of people and sails. It is graphic action rather than scenic. ‘I like to produce shots that leave my viewer questioning where it has been taken from.’ She was the first to take pictures of yachts from this bird’s eye angle and it has become one of her trademarks. Not only does she need a head for heights, but also being hoisted up a mast is a bruising experience and not without its dangers. She prefers the yacht to be going downwind when the spinnaker is flying and the motion is smooth, but one time she was aloft a 60-foot mast when the boat capsized. ‘The last 10 feet of the drop went very fast and I was lucky not to get hit by the mast. Potentially there was also the danger that my weight in that position would mean the boat might not right itself.’ Kos has photographed many of the major marine events around the world like the Americas Cup, the Sydney Hobart Race and Powerboat P1, diving under boats to get unusual imagery using her waterproof diving cameras, or a camera and housing with a dome port so she can focus on the surface of the water (a wide angle gives a crisp edge to the water and a clearer vision both above and below the water). Her most recent book project was about Tara Getty’s Blue Bird, which Kos published in December 2010. This beautiful Gentleman’s yacht was originally built for Sir Malcolm Campbell in 1938, and lovingly restored by Tara Getty at the Astilleros de Mallorca yard in Palma. Kos photographed the Art of the restoration over three years and the book captures the incredible attention to detail of this restoration by G.L.Watson, the company had also been the original designers. The story of her colourful history was captured in the words of Tom Cunliffe who wrote with passion about the good and bad times she went through. Contact: Kos’s photography can be viewed at &
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