From coast to coast: This is the story of internationally renowned photographer Kurt Arrigo
‘I remember my grandfather taking pictures, documenting family life, and that intrigued me.’
Over the decades he has spent honing his art in marine and underwater photography, Kurt Arrigo has explored alluring pockets of Malta and Gozo that most aren’t even aware of.
Kurt Arrigo’s boyhood memories bathed in the brilliant blue of Malta’s summer seas have been something of a blueprint for his life, both on a professional and a personal level.
“My earliest memories are certainly of life by the sea. I remember spending most of my summers around the St Julian’s and St George’s Bay shoreline, swimming and jumping off boats. At the time, there were hardly any people there and certainly not many buildings,” he recalls with a nostalgic smile.
A keen swimmer, sailor, diver, bicyclist, and runner to this day, Kurt continues to “use Malta as my playground”, taking any opportunity he can to explore and enjoy the island’s unspoiled idylls away from the crowds.
More significantly, Malta’s seas have provided an endless well of inspiration for Kurt’s photographic subject matter.
Was the calling for photography always strong?
“I think my first real encounter with photography goes back to when I was about 11 years old. I remember my grandfather taking pictures, documenting family life, and that intrigued me. That’s when I first thought it would be cool to have a camera. But for some reason or other, I shelved that idea for a few more years. Then when I was around 15, my older brother suddenly began getting really good at photography. That inspired me to buy my first analogue camera. And I’ve never looked back,” Kurt said.
Thus began a journey of discovery that saw a young Kurt dive headfirst into the artistic possibilities of photography. Going down the self-taught route, he began documenting aspects of Malta and his life that he connected with most, always seeking to improve his craft.
“My evolution in photography was a bit of a university of life experience, learning things the hard way. I also picked things up from books and by looking through the work of international photographers in magazines - the way they took photos, how they did it. Then I would try to blend all I had learned into what I was trying to capture,” he explains.
And one of the main themes he was attempting to capture almost from the very start was movement, action, and drama on and in the sea. As an experienced scuba diver and yacht sailor, Kurt challenged himself even further by merging his water sports and photography passions together. This proved to be a winning formula that steadily gained him a reputation as a go-to underwater and marine photographer.
Flicking through the many highlights in Kurt’s extensive collection are stunning shots of racing yachts cresting white-capped waves, beshawled dancers jetéeing near the calm of the seabed, and low angle shots of horses paddling powerfully through sun-streaked water.
Scratch beneath the surface of all the poised beauty captured within the final images and it quickly dawns on you how physically challenging and potentially perilous these shots at sea must be. Is marine photography as dangerous as it actually appears?
“When you grow up into it, you learn to respect Mother Nature. There is an element of danger when you’re dealing with the elements, whether it’s the weather, rough conditions, or strong currents, and you do experience a few close calls. But when you gain experience and have the right equipment, collaborators, and protocols in place, it becomes easier to adapt to different scenarios safely and find ways to capture something fresh and new in the photography,” he shares.
In 2001, Kurt’s career enjoyed yet another boost when he caught the attention of Rolex thanks to his work at the annual Middle Sea yacht race in Valletta, which Rolex were sponsoring for the first time. Since then, he has continued to collaborate with the world-famous watch designers as one of their official yachting photographers, with many exclusive assignments overseas.
“I’ve documented the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, the Fastnet Race around the UK and Ireland, the Volcano Race in Capri, and the Maxi Worlds in Sardinia. Every race has had its highlights, stressful moments, and challenging weather conditions. There have been helicopter scenarios where you’re flying through storms, which plays with your mind a bit. But it’s been an incredible experience where you get to work with so many talented teams of people.”
Yet, despite all his globetrotting adventures Kurt admits he has never been tempted to jump ship and relocate.
“I love Malta, I love its roots,” he says with a genuine note of affection. “Yes, things have changed here with overdevelopment. But Malta still has a strong history which is ingrained in the people and our culture and traditions. It’s a beautiful part of the Mediterranean and offers a fantastic lifestyle. So, yes, Malta is my home and I still connect with it. It’s an important part of who I am.”
Kurt’s love for his home island is also something that shines through his photography. He spent countless months going around Valletta, documenting the capital and its astonishing architecture from the ground, sea, and sky, in photographs which were collected in a book titled Grand Harbour Malta.
However, it’s arguably the islands’ coasts that remain his strongest love.
“I would say the west coast of Malta remains fascinating to me, starting from Golden Bay, Riviera Bay, and Ġnejna, and continuing downwards. That coastline is a very inspiring place to photograph. Whether you’re hiking around the coastline or sailing with a boat, it offers a beautiful variation of topography and different types of energy as well, which really resonates with me. It’s a particularly stunning location to shoot during the sunset.
“Then in Gozo, starting from Mġarr ix-Xini all the way around to Marsalforn, and also places like San Dimitri. These coastal areas can be very challenging to reach, but the blue that reflects off the cliffs and into the deep sea is just incredible. The beauty of all these areas in Malta and Gozo is that they provide different perspectives. If you’re hiking from above, you get to see the unspoilt coastline stretch out beneath you. Then if you’re below the cliffs on a boat, the scale is so overwhelming, it can make you feel insignificant, like a little speck.”
Much of Kurt’s fascination with his favourite local coastline locations was collected in his first book Malta: A Coastal Journey, which was gifted to HRH Queen Elizabeth II on her visit to Malta in honour of the 2005 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.
Any comments from Her Majesty?
“Not that I’m aware of,” he says with a chuckle. “Obviously, she had a strong bond with the island in her younger years. So hopefully my photos refreshed her memory on all the things she loved about Malta.”
Even though he has documented more of Malta than most, Kurt continues to find new angles to inspire his work. Recently, he has been collaborating with artists, freedivers, and athletes, including record-breaking Maltese swimmer Neil Agius. He has also been using his photography to help raise awareness on environmental concerns relating to the sea.
“Last year, I did some work for the United Nations on the environment and fish life. As I’m based in Malta, I was documenting the effects of fisheries and ghost nets in local waters. I like to move into different little projects. Through whatever I do, it’s a case of connecting with new people and collaborating with interesting human beings.”
Here are Kurt's favourite places to shoot around the island:
Riviera (also known as Għajn Tuffieħa Bay) is a very beautiful beach to shoot. I swim a lot there and think it’s a great place. I’d especially recommend photographing the beach and surrounding area from a boat.
The Cape of St Demetrius, just outside Għarb, Gozo, is another off-the-beaten track must. The way the blue reflects off the cliffs and into the deep sea is breath-taking.
When the weather is kind, these jaw dropping cliffs in Munxar, Gozo, are definitely the place to head. It’s a truly spectacular stretch of emerald-topped coastline.