Photos of Life at Sea
What life is like when you're stuck on a ship with the same group of guys for months on end.
This article originally appeared on VICE Romania
My father was a sailor, which meant that he spent more time away than at home for much of my childhood. Life at sea always fascinated me – just the thought of my dad sailing from one exotic port to the other excited my imagination more than reading any novel ever did. When I got a little older, I realised that his work wasn't all about fighting pirates and digging up buried treasures, but that he had an actual job to do.
What also changed, was that my father's telegrams turned into Skype calls, which allowed my mum and I to be there with him on the Indian Ocean or the Australian West Coast. Seeing where he lived while he was away, made me understand the thrills and challenges of his line of work much better and brought me closer to my dad.
Romanian sailor and photographer Cezar Gabriel Popescu is trying to bring the same understanding to a wider audience than just his family. On his Facebook page My Life at Sea , he shares photos and personal reflections on his daily routine with his colleagues on an oil tanker. By doing so, he hopes to show what life on board is like, and give people a sense of how sailors deal with the physical and emotional aspects of their jobs. I called Cezar while he was sailing near Mexico, to talk about what he wants to achieve with his photos.
VICE: Hey Cezar, are you a sailor, a photographer or both?
Cezar Gabriel Popescu: I have been sailing for 18 years, and currently work as our ship's senior mechanic. But even though I only took up photography about seven years ago, I consider myself as much of a photographer as a sailor. Luckily for me, my two passions can blend perfectly together.
What motivated you to start your Facebook page?
When I first got into photography, I mainly took pictures of the places I visited on holiday – sunrises, sunsets, that sort of thing. I never thought about taking my colleagues or our day-to-day on board as a subject, because I didn't think anyone would care. But then I started to notice how every time I came home, my friends and family would ask me the same questions – about how we deal with storms, about whether I ever see any dolphins, and generally about what we do all day. Most people have no idea about life at sea, so I decided to use my photography to show them.
Do your colleagues like having their pictures taken?
At first some were a bit shy, but now most of them seem to enjoy being in my photos. I'm sure there are a few who aren't as comfortable with it, but you can't please everybody.
How do you decide what parts of your day are worth documenting?
I don't actually plan anything in advance, because I want to try and represent our normal lives as naturally as possible. I'm a mechanic, so obviously most of the photos reflect what my team is getting up to on a daily basis, but I try to capture as many different aspects of life on board as I can, across different departments – from the deck to the galley.
How many ports have you seen by now?
It's hard to keep count, but let's just say the only places I haven't been to are Australia, Japan and the Pacific coast of America. The most beautiful part of the world I've ever passed through was the Strait of Magellan in South America. Unfortunately, I wasn't into photography back then, so I didn't take any pictures.
Is there any truth in the stereotype of sailors being a bunch of misogynistic alcoholics?
Those stereotypes are just funny to me. We're really not all rough, drunken sleazebags, incapable of genuine emotion. I'm sure seamen like that exist, but the majority of the people I've worked with in the last 18 years are perfectly normal and human. It's true this job can harden you in a sense – you need discipline to work on a ship, and it can be hard to deal with personal issues when you're so far from your loved ones. But that doesn't mean we're all screwed up.
Your pictures and the thoughts you share with them often paint such a romantic picture of what it's like being a sailor. But what are the more challenging parts of your work?
I do romanticise a bit, but what can I say? I love poetry. This job can be really hard, especially when we're stuck in a storm for longer than anticipated and we need to ration food and water. But I'd say being away from home for so long is definitely the hardest part. When someone in your family has a problem but there's nothing you can do about it because you're so far away, you feel absolutely powerless. That's horrible.
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Do you get into a lot of dangerous situations? Like, have you ever been ambushed by pirates?
No, we rarely sail through waters where pirates are known to hang out. But we're always prepared to defend ourselves in case something happens – most ships have armed security these days, and we always do our emergency drills. I've seen my fair share of accidents on ships – though no fatal ones, thankfully. Once, a hose broke and I was sprayed in the face with some kind of chemical. My eyes were swollen for three days. I couldn't see anything at first, but after a while I started seeing shadows again and slowly regained my eyesight. The thought of going permanently blind was terrifying.
People from so many different cultures and religions work together on a ship. Can it be difficult to get along?
I've honestly never been on a ship where that was a problem. There will always be some tensions, but never about religion or anyone's cultural background.
What do you do on board when you're not working?
Up until a few years ago, we would all hang out in the mess hall, watch movies, play cards – generally just hang out together. Now, most of my colleagues spend any spare time in their cabins, on the internet or watching movies on their laptops. Though it's great for connecting us with our families, technology does have an isolating effect on board.
Scroll down for more of Cezar's pictures of life at sea.