An interview with PlanetVisible's Jean-Luc Grossmann

We recently sat down with Jean-Luc Grossmann, a French professional photographer that forms part of the photography collective PlanetVisible. His specialties include portraiture, editorial and commercial photography. However, as part of the PlanetVisible team, he is one of three Switzerland-based photographers who travel the world to explore, document and share the journeys through visual storytelling. Read more about Jean-Luc and PlanetVisible below.

PELI: PlanetVisible is a small photography collective specialized in visual storytelling. How do you bring a story to life visually and, more importantly, how do you make it engaging & compelling?

JLG: I think that a good adventure story is based on what one experiences and learns throughout the journey. We also wanted to give others the possibility to discover this amazing part of the world that has unique natural beauty through our photography and to some extent incentivise people to care about our planet. The aesthetic of the image always plays an important role in our photography.


Credit: PlanetVisible

PELI: After 2 years of postponement due to COVID, you just came back from the longed-for stand-up paddling expedition to North Greenland. What was the main goal of this expedition?

JLG: In July/August this year we travelled to remote north west Greenland with the intention of exploring, documenting, and sharing what we encountered. We were successful in achieving our aim to paddleboard unassisted 450km north from Upernavik to Kullorsuaq.

One of the main goals of this expedition was to explore the largely unknown supraglacial lakes on Greenland’s ice sheet. By mid-summer each year, vibrant blue meltwater lakes appear on the surface. These lakes can reach kilometres in diameter and several metres in depth. Their formation is driven by temperature, topography and elevation. Supraglacial lakes store large amounts of fresh water, while they can drain in hours they might also last for months. We packed our paddle boards and safety equipment and hiked on the ice sheet to reach these hidden secrets of nature, experiencing a once in a lifetime paddle session that gave us some amazing photographic opportunities.

Credit: PlanetVisible

PELI: What was the day-to-day like?

JLG: Before hitting the water in the morning everything from camping gear, food, water, clothing, not to mention the photography equipment had to be strapped down to the boards in waterproof bags and our Peli Cases. Greenland brought us a mixed bag of weather conditions but overall we made steady progress of 30 kilometres every day when the wind or the current was not against us. Being so far north at a latitude of 74°, the visits from the arctic terns on their epic migrating journey from Antarctica were a welcome change to our daily routine and from time to time a few curious seals poked their heads out of the water from a safe distance.

We enjoyed the creative challenge of capturing nature’s essence on cameras. To illustrate and document our journey we used both photography and a drone for aerial stills and video footage. To get the right shots while on the water we had to take into account the risk of 'on-board' photography and opening our Peli Cases when on the paddle boards. One slight tilt and our gear could have ended up in the water.

Credit: PlanetVisible

We felt very small when paddling beneath mountainous walls that plunged into the sea and we sometimes push to go on for several kilometres before finding a safe landing spot. Over the 3 week journey we had many remarkable campsites, they were a reward for the long paddling days. After setting up the tents, fishing was always the next priority. In this spectacular and peaceful environment, facing the sea, facing nature, we experienced fishing as a source of contemplation and meditation. Little by little we get used to the Midnight Sun and the fact that the summer days last for 24 hours. On sunny days and where possible we washed ourselves in the clear freezing water of some small streams. While sleeping, we recharged the batteries of our cameras, GPS and walkie-talkies with the help of our solar panels. We kept a journal and took notes of the GPS points of each camping spot and the distances paddled.

PELI: You and the rest of the team have been training hard both physically as well as mentally to do this expedition in a safe and responsible manner. Do you have any tips and especially “dont's” you would like to share with any aspiring stand-up paddle explorers on their way to Greenland?

JLG: A 450 km fully self-supported stand up paddling adventure well within the arctic circle along Greenland’s icy northwest coast requires careful planning and thorough preparation. My tips for a successful expedition / adventure next to regular training sessions, a well thought planning and the right equipment are:

  1. Allocate enough time to the trip – being tied to a fixed schedule and therefore having to force progression could mean being exposed to danger.
  1. Know the strengths and weaknesses of each team member.
  1. Remain focused and alert right after the heat of the action – accidents often occur when concentration decreases, for example right after paddling a difficult stretch once immediate danger seems to be passed.
  1. The knowledge of each team member brings better collective decision making.
  1. And last but not least, have fun and stay positive – expeditions can be challenging sometimes, keeping up with a positive attitude can make a big difference to you and your team.
Credit: PlanetVisible

PELI: We are sure that you must have lived a lot of stories during this 24-day journey. Is there any anecdote that you could share with us?

JLG: I remember how exciting it was paddling next to these moving ice sculptures. These sleeping beauties were attracting us like magnets and we had to remind ourselves on many occasions to not paddle too close and keep a safe distance. Especially after a huge iceberg collapsed on the exact spot where we were taking pictures a few minutes earlier. That was a lesson for the rest of the trip!

PELI: You travelled to Greenland with a collection of Peli cases. How did they benefit you on your expedition?

JLG: We needed to reduce weight and pack size to the minimum. The four of us each had a Peli Air 1485 case on his deck. The TrekPak dividers allowed us to bring a system within the case and were ideal to sort our camera gear. On all my adventures while being on the water I always use Peli Air cases. On a trip like this one we were confronted with many challenges largely due to the elements. It’s definitely a relief to know that your camera equipment is stored safely no matter what.

Credit: PlanetVisible

You can follow Jean-Luc on instagram here and PlanetVisible here.


Join the conversation

You may also like