My 2nd year photographing explorers, adventurers and their benefactors at the glamorous Explorers Club Annual Dinner, held this year at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City.

As seen in National Geographic (link at bottom)

The Monkey King Family

Richard and Laetitia are famous for dressing up in full outrageous outfits, and each year I look forward to photographing them.

Video game developer Richard Garriott de Cayeux is also known by his alter egos, Lord British in Ultima and General British in Tabula Rasa. A well-known figure in the video game industry, Garriott de Cayeux was originally a game designer and programmer, but now engages in various aspects of computer game development and business. He’s dressed here as Sun Wukong, also known as the Monkey King, a mythological figure who is featured in a body of legends tracing back to the period of the Song dynasty.

Laetitia Garriott de Cayeux is the co-founder of space-tech company Escape Dynamics. She is wearing the Chinese headpiece of the Miao people. The children’s outfits are celebrating Mongolia.

The Cave Explorer

C. William “Bill” Steele is a lifelong cave explorer who is preparing to lead an ambitious expedition to southern Mexico. The expedition, made up of cave explorers and scientists from five countries, totaling 45 people, will spend five weeks in a remote, mountainous part of Oaxaca, where native curanderos still conduct mystical pre-Hispanic magic mushroom ceremonies to commune with spirits.

Here Steele is dressed in Oaxacan curandero garb, seeking the right frame of mind to meet with a curandero to request that he communicate with “cave spirits” on the explorers’ behalf, to ease the concerns of native people that the spirits might get upset by humans trespassing into their eternal sanctuaries.

Steele and his colleagues have been exploring the cave system called Sistema Huautla since the 1970s. Though it has 20 known entrances and is 44 miles long, and is the deepest cave in the Western Hemisphere, there are other large, impressive entrances that explorers have not yet been permitted to enter due to the beliefs of local farmers. Most cavers who have ventured into Sistema Huautla have emerged saying it’s likely the world’s greatest cave. Mexican scientists in the fields of geology, biology, and paleontology will accompany this year’s monthlong expedition as they explore farther into the unknown reaches of inner Earth.

The Antarctic veteran and her handmade wool/silk dress

Kari Hyer spent 36 months in Antarctica (late 80′s-mid 90′s) – including a winter at both South Pole and McMurdo Station, her intention with this dress (designed by Cindy Ciarcia) was to honour Sir Ernest Shackleton – 2016 is the 100th anniversary of the end of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Antarctic Expedition. I felt it fitting, especially considering the evenings theme. Most practically, she expressed her wish to stay warm!

A trained Biologist she’s had a lifelong passion for exploring nature and it’s relationships.

Randy (Randall) Hyer calls himself a ‘medical explorer’.  He was the 40th winter over Medical Officer at McMurdo Station, Antarctica, ’94-’95.  Randy has consulted with NASA using the Antarctic as an analogue for deep space missions, he helped pioneer the practical application of Telemedicine in remote areas and is a leading world expert in Risk and Crisis communication.  He drafted the first comprehensive privacy legislation bill.  Technically, he was a member of the Outbreak/Response team and the first full time civil military liaison at WHO.

The first to dive beneath the North Pole

This year’s The William Beebe Award recipient Dr Joe MacInnes was the first scientist to dive under the north pole

Joe is a medical doctor who’s pioneering research on undersea science and engineering projects earned him his nation’s highest honor—the Order of Canada. He’s worked under the Arctic, Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

His famous expeditions are too numerous to list here, but some notable ones include his dives to the wreck of the Titanic and as a key advisor to the team that discovered the wreck, his dives with James Cameron which resulted in the 3D film ‘Aliens of the Deep’.

Picture an explorer in a tiny deep-ocean submersible and it’s likely Dr MacInnes had something to do with it or was in it!

The Enigmatic Enchantress

A highlight of my yearly coverage, Alexandra Covert is responsible for the giant logistical network that dresses all the Louis Vuitton window displays around the world and takes a keen interest in exploration. Every year she’s one of my favourite subjects, always managing somehow to exactly work with my theme of set-design. It’s as if we coordinated it before hand.

Ocean Iron Man

His pose was inspired by a portrait I love of George Clooney—and David pulled it off beautifully.

David Gruber, the evening’s keynote speaker, a marine biologist, professor, National Geographic emerging explorer, and a recognized world authority in marine biology. His recent work includes the discovery and study of bioluminescent and biofluorescent marine animals, which are the subject of an upcoming 3-D IMAX film.

He deserves to be at the very top of this gallery.

The Benefactor Extraordinaire

Frederik Paulsen Jr, pictured here with his glamorous wife Olga Litviniukis is an established businessman, academic, philanthropist and explorer.

He spends most of his time and virtually all of his massive wealth planning expeditions and underwriting philanthropic projects that are, literally, all over the map.

Of everyone featured here, his bio is the hardest to encapsulate in a couple of paragraphs. Let’s just say that all other famous billionaire philanthropists don’t hold a candle to Mr Paulsen’s contribution to the world of exploration, both financially and through his own explorations.

Seriously, google him, he’s incredible.

The Harvard Professor of Neuroscience, and so much more

 Dr. S. Allen Counter is a professional explorer who has initiated scientific research and cultural studies among the indigenous people of the Suriname South American rain forest. His explorations led to over a decade of major articles on the little known rain forest descendents of 17th and 18th century African slaves, in a variety of international periodicals including Newsweek, Time, New York Times, Boston Globe, Smithsonian, Dagens Nyheter (Sweden), Expressen (Sweden), as well asscientific journals.

     He produced an award-winning documentary on the culture of the Rain Forest African-American people, I Shall Moulder Before I Shall Be Taken, which has been shown on television and screen throughout the world (including the ancestral villages in Africa). His research work with the Rain Forest African-Americans, and his films on their tribal customs and heritage have been the subject of a 90 minute PBS special entitled, I Sought My Brother, an ABC Television show called Rebel Slaves and a later PBS special called  Vanishing Tribe.

He’s a fascinating character who charmed everyone in my team. Their enthusiasm for his work has infected me as well.

The Extracurricular Explorer

Gillian Driscoll works in the music industry and, like many others in attendance, has a passion for exploration without being an explorer herself. She’s wearing a mermaid-inspired outfit with a headpiece from the 1960s reminiscent of a starfish.

Along with Alexandra (above), they were the talk of the dinner and represent the future of the Explorers Club, a modern crowd merging creative pursuits with an interest in exploration.

The Exotic Chef

Internationally recognized exotic food expert Gene Rurka oversees the world-famous menu for the yearly gala. The food theme this year was “invasive species.” He’s pictured here with a deep-fried boa constrictor. Other items on the menu included deep-fried tarantulas, sautéed cockroaches, and many other invasive species.

Rurka’s work is an integral part of what makes the club’s annual event so special. Seeing the passion in his eyes as he talks about earth’s food future is inspiring. Hint: it includes lots and lots of insects.

The Underwater Dream Team

David Doubilet and Jennifer Hayes are both among the top underwater photographers in the world. They’ve both been shooting for National Geographic for decades. You’ve all seen their images.

They were utterly charming as portrait subjects. Jennifer remarked, ‘Do fish feel this way when I photograph them?’

The Scuba Pioneer

Carla Guicome was Mozambique’s first female scuba dive instructor. Ss president of Bitonga divers association, she train Mozambicans to become Professional divers! Her mission is to empower and provide opportunity to indigenous people, particularly women.

Her Deepness

American marine biologist, explorer, author, and lecturer Sylvia Earle has been a National Geographic explorer-in-residence since 1998. Earle was the first female chief scientist of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and was named by Time magazine as its first Hero for the Planet in 1998. She won the Explorers Club Medal in 1996, and has been an active member of the club for decades. In 2013, she received the esteemed National Geographic Hubbard Medal.

The Polar Scientist

Geoscientist, ecologist, and meteorologist Frederick Roots, the recipient of the 2016 Explorers Medal—the Explorers Club’s most prestigious award—was honored for being a global force in polar, circumpolar, and biopolar research and discovery. He was part of the Norwegian-British-Swedish Antarctic Expedition from 1949 to 1952 and set the record for longest unsupported dogsled journey at 189 days.

I asked for an explanation of what the rock samples were all about, but alas, the response was ‘I just gave a 45 minute talk on this.’. I do know they have something to do with early modern navigational techniques that go way over my head.

The Egyptologist

Vintage fashion aficionada Colleen Manassa Darnell (wearing a Bill Gibb gown) is an Egyptologist with the Yale Peabody Museum and the University of Hartford, who is concentrating her current fieldwork on the exploration of a group of Late Roman “lost cities” that she and her expedition have discovered on ancient routes through the Eastern Desert of Egypt.

She floated onto my set and floated away again with an otherworldly grace.

The Executive Explorer

Maria Wilhelm is a board member of the Explorers Club and is the Executive Director of the Avatar Alliance Foundation and President & COO of CAMERON Companies (James Cameron)

Her sustainably-sourced, handmade jewelry is constructed from fragments of Paua shell found in the deep waters off of the South Island of New Zealand near the Antarctic, and was created by artist Libby Pool in Byron Bay, Australia. Paua have been used for centuries as art by the Maori, the indigenous people of New Zealand, as well as recognized by them for healing properties for anything from calcium deficiencies to hearing disorders. The Maori have also associated Paua with promoting clarity, wisdom and prosperity.

The Textile Explorer

Justin “Baron” Fornal is an explorer and filmmaker currently working on the National Geographic Explorer series. His newest expedition documents and repurposes indigenous textile production and dyeing techniques from around the world. The fabric of his outfit is from a traditional posahuanco made in Pinotepa de Don Luis, Mexico, and dyed using purpura snails (purple), cochineal (red), and indigo (blue). It is from the first stop of his fabrics expedition, showcasing vanishing ancient textile production techniques.

As his alter ego, Baron Ambrosia, he showcases America’s little-known ethnic enclaves on the Cooking Channel’s The Culinary Adventures of Baron Ambrosia.

The Rat Pack

l-r Mark Bezos, Steve Poore and Josh Bernstein together make up quite an accomplished group of friends.

Mark is the Senior Vice President of Development, Communications & Events at Robin Hood, the leading poverty-fighting charity in New York City. Mark tells me that essentially he’s ‘selling karma’, an apt way to describe his fundraising activities.

He’s also is the Assistant Captain of a volunteer fire company in Westchester County, New York.

I suspect Mark is getting more and more involved in his brother Jeff’s Blue Origin space technology development company. When I asked him to give me some inside info, he declined, with a cheeky grin, to give any information. They are up to something great, I can feel it.

Steve is the Direct of the Bezos Family Foundation, which supports rigorous, inspired learning environments for young people, from birth through high school, to put their education into action. Through investments in research, public awareness and programs, the foundation works to elevate the field of education and improve life outcomes for all children. Our focus includes early learning, strengthening the K-12 public education system and supporting young leaders.

Josh is an American explorer, author, survival expert, anthropologist, and TV host known as the host of Digging for the Truth and many other TV shows.

These three met at sea in 2013, when they spent almost a month at sea on the Apollo F-1 Engine Expedition (TEC Flag #132). The Explorers Club honored them and their shipmates with the Citation of Merit in 2014.

Together these guys are arguably connected to the top of the who’s who in exploration. Getting them all together in one photo was easy, getting them to leave the set was harder, they seemed to belong.

The Scarlet Philanthropist

Evva Fenison was on Explorers Club Flag Expedition #216, where she explored a Bioflourescent reef in Indonesia.

There’s no more perfect portrait her, a luminous aura surrounds her, the dress (by Canadian designer Wayne Clark) a perfect accompaniment.

The moment I saw her, I knew what pose we would be doing, and it worked.

The Afghan Educator

Sandra Cook is a national member of the Explorers club and spent close to 10 years on and off in Afghanistan, working on a foundation that built a library on the campus of the Kabul University. She served as the Vice President at the American University of Afghanistan.

She’s always getting up to some sort of adventure, most recently riding horseback across the Wakhan corridor to the source of the Oxus River. Make of that what you wish!

The hand-made ensemble includes an Afghan wedding hat, an Afghan dress over which is fitted a hand-embroidered Afghan vest, all procured at afghan markets. The dress is about 50 years old.

The TV wildlife expert

Jim Fowler is a world-famous wildlife expert and TV show host of the award-winning television show Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom and Animal Planet.

Much to my dismay I found out too late that Jim gave his speech at the dinner with a snake wrapped around his neck. The animal was taken away before Jim made it to my booth. My mad dash across the Waldorf Astoria to retrieve it ultimately ended up in disappointment. And no, it’s not the same animal you can see deep friend in the portrait of Gene Rurka above

FKP_18935 by Felix Kunze

The Master of Ceremonies

Ann Curry is an American television personality, news journalist and photojournalist. Curry has been a reporter for more than 30 years, focused on human suffering in war zones and natural disasters. Curry has reported from the wars in Syria, Darfur, Congo, the Central African Republic, Kosovo, Lebanon, Israel, Afghanistan and Iraq, among others. Curry has covered numerous disasters, including the tsunamis in Southeast Asia and the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, where her appeal via Twitter topped Twitter’s ‘most powerful’ list, credited for helping speed the arrival of humanitarian planes.

Embarrassingly I did not know any of this when I photographed her (I don’t watch much television), but she was amazingly sweet to my suddenly fawning crew. I noticed them all treating her with deference and whispered into her ear ‘you’re so nice these guys are all walking on egg-shells around you’.

Just another one of those moments when I have my foot firmly planted in my mouth.

My producer Allie said ‘that’s probably one of the most famous people you’ve ever photographed’ punched me in the arm and said ‘and you didn’t even realise it’. She’s clearly a fan and now so am I!

The Polar Queen

Tamara Mazur is the official Media Representative of Foundation Mamont. Through many years of experience in the fields of Marketing and Media Communication, Tamara Mazur has been supporting the mission of the foundation since September 2013 by promoting its research efforts in the Polar Regions, informed action to achieve a sustainable environment, thus duly enabling it to spread its scientific discoveries across the globe.

The Easter Island Archeologist

Chilean Archeoastronomer Edmundo Edwards, a 45 year resident of Easter Island, has devoted his life to the scientific study, survey of numerous sites and preservation of the archaeology and culture of the Polynesia. Co-founder the Pacific Islands Research Institute, Edwards works tirelessly towards continued discovery, analysis, documentation, restoration and understanding of South Pacific history and cultures. Co-author with his daughter Alexandra Edwards of “When the Universe was an Island”, a very thorough study of the history and cultures of Polynesia.

This year Edmundo was awarded the Explorers Club Citation of Merit.

The supporter of women explorers

Ashley Jurgensen, representing with the Wings World Quest with an outfit by Gary Graham.

Through the Fellows and Flag Carrier programs, WINGS creates community and showcases the groundbreaking work of women scientists and explorers, whose discoveries advance scientific inquiry, stimulate conservation, and lead to better understanding of our world.

WINGS’ outreach programs provide a platform for women scientists and explorers to share their work and inspire the next generation of intrepid explorers and global problem-solvers.

The Specialist

Constance Difede is the Vice President for special projects at the Club. This year she won a Sweeney medal for her work in the club. She has her fingers in many pies of exploration and is responsible for some of the most attention-grabbing projects at the Explorers Club over the years.

 The Film Maker

Emily Driscoll is a science video director/producer and the founder of BonSci Films, a production company specializing in science and art documentaries. Her films about invasive species, restoring wild oysters to New York Harbor, the threats of microplastics, and preserving fireflies and darkness in the environment, have screened internationally at museums, universities and film festivals, and have aired on PBS stations in the U.S..

She’s one of the co-chairs of the Explorers Club dinner and was integral in finding a spot to squeeze our photo set somewhere between the submersibles, space suits and tables of deep fried snakes, cockroaches and tarantulas.


Backdrops by Violet Oliphant O’Neill

With thanks to everyone involved: The Explorers Club, The Waldorf Astoria Hotel, Adorama Rentals Company, Matt Richards, Alex Schaefer, Chaunna Michole, Allie Settle, Anne Mary Potts, Bill & Sharyn Runyon, Eric Zember.


- National Geographic Article
- The Explorers Club
- Oliphant Studios
- Felix Kunze