tobania

Lien Robberechts

Published on 21/08/2019

The polar bear and other tales by Ellen Cuylaerts

Did you notice our ocean-like second floor? Should our Tobians experience a little afternoon dip, they can just lean back, look around and feel relaxed at once. There is an interesting story behind the pictures that adorn our walls. It's the story of Ellen Cuylaerts. Are you ready to dive into it?

Ellen Cuylaerts has been working in IT, together with her brother Tom Cuylaerts. The hectic life with their two children, both diagnosed with high-functioning autism, was not exactly what they were looking for... She and her partner Michael Maes decided to turn it around and move to the Caribbean to find some inner peace for their family. Ellen couldn't imagine how much her life would change after she moved from snorkelling to deep sea diving ...

Ellen has always been a multi-tasker and soon only diving was not enough: she needed more incentives to prevent her from being bored. She once wanted to study photography and now took up this old dream with a slight change: she turned to underwater photography. The challenge of staying hyperalert to all signals under the surface, offered the ultimate feeling of "healing". It’s a sensation that leads to an inconvenient approach to animal photography. She needs to connect with the animals before watching them through a lens, a practice that gives the audience of the pictures the feeling of direct contact with the animal. The talent and unique method of Ellen did not stay unnoticed: soon she started taking part in photography competitions and was rewarded for her gift.

Lots of those breath-taking pictures are seen on our second floor. Maybe you have noticed the polar bear in one of our meeting rooms? This dangerous predator is normally very hard to catch on the screen, but Ellen got her change when she met one sleeping on land in Svalbard, while she was observing him from the water. The polar bear, aware he would never be able to catch up with them in this situation, stayed asleep without giving any attention to his observant. It turned into a beautiful picture from a dangerous creature that you can normally hardly approach so closely without endangering yourself and the animal.

Ellen's story also has a peaceable side: she is a volunteer for World Oceans Day, a concept organised by the United Nations. She provides them with photo material so that the reports convince the decision makers even better. In this way they fight against the plastic pollution in our oceans among other things. She has also been a curator for the photo competition of the United Nations for three years now, insisting that photographers act ethically in their approach to animals. In this way, Ellen hopes to contribute to a world in which she can keep portraying the underwater world in her own special way.