“Shaping Horizons” by Explora I: Robin Hunter Blake’s Unique Perspective
When I think of astonishing cruise ship images, photographers like the late Harvey Lloyd and the masterful Michel Verdure immediately come to mind. Now, after sailing Explora Journeys’ Explora I, I’ll add Robin Hunter Blake to that esteemed duo.
Largely self-taught, Blake doesn’t possess a lengthy resume of cruise industry credentials, and, unlike Lloyd and Verdure, you won’t find him hanging out of a helicopter to capture aerial views of a ship heading into port. In fact, much of Blake’s photography focuses on fashion and nature, with mood and symbolism taking centerstage. His Explora I assignment was the first time the articulate, 24-year-old ex-boxer who was born in Scotland, raised in Barcelona, and now resides in London, had come anywhere near a cruise ship (aside from the fact that his mother and father—a dancer and a bartender, respectively—met on one).
Of his ambitious photographic assignment for Explora I, Blake says “It was luck, really. My mum’s best friend married a man associated with Explora and he and I met for coffee in London. I said ‘There must be a photographic project that I could be involved in’ and the gentleman was very gracious and set up an e-mail introduction which led to me going to Geneva to pitch the project. Being unfamiliar with the cruise world, it was quite intimidating but very soon, after they reviewed samples of my work, I was given the go-ahead and three trips to the Fincantieri shipyard were scheduled over the following seven months.”
I met up with Blake at Explora I’s Galleria d’Arte, a dedicated art gallery aboard the 63,900 grt, a 922-passenger ship that began sailing in August 2023, for an introduction to “Shaping Horizons,” the result of those three trips to Italy.
“This is where we’re standing right now,” said Blake as he directed my attention to a grainy black-and-white image of a maddening riot of panels, wires, and lights pierced by rays of sunlight, a lone construction worker surveying the scene. I could barely believe that that chaos ultimately became the ship’s stunning art gallery where we stood, its curved, textured walls and arced lighting hovering above gleaming parquet flooring.
“I never felt as alive as I did when I first arrived at Fincantieri!” says Blake. “It was a symphony of steel, sparks and shouting! I felt spoiled—there was just so much to play with!”
And play he did.
As we walk through Blake’s exhibit, I notice that in many cases, he has captured aspects of a ship’s structure and transformed them into treasures that might adorn space at a modern art museum or a wall in my living room: A massive chain crawls eerily toward darkness from a field of light; a composition, almost cubist, brings Picasso to mind until, upon closer inspection, the viewer realizes it’s actually Explora I’s bow shot from below, the MSC logo ever so faintly visible.
With “Shaping Horizons,” Robin Hunter Blake has brought a new vision to the documentation of a ship’s construction in much the same way that Explora Journeys has brought a new vision to luxury cruising.
And both, I must say, are enormously impressive.
THE EXPLORA I EXPERIENCE
Explora Journeys aims to deliver the experience of a high-end boutique hotel like the Ritz Carlton or Four Seasons rather than that of a luxury ship. Many members of Explora I’s crew, in fact, served not aboard ships but at lofty hotel establishments around the globe. In the line’s reinvention of the luxury cruise category, Explora I has introduced spectacles that include a shopping arcade with Cartier, Rolex and Piaget outposts, a breathtaking two-story lobby bar, all-suite/all-balcony accommodations (with Frette linens and bathrobes in the walk-in closet, heated marble bathroom floors and a pricy Dyson hairdryer in each suite), and nine dining experiences, including Anthology, the first specialty restaurant at sea where a Michelin-star chef orchestrates the menu and technique that results in an exquisite tasting menu.
Fortunately, unlike a luxury hotel, the Explora Journeys experience is an all-inclusive one with drinks (including Moet & Chandon Imperial champagne, both white and rose), most specialty dining, wi-fi, and gratuities included in the fare.
Explora I and Robin Hunter Blake are a winning combination. And, with five more Explora Jouneys ships in the pipeline, I look forward to seeing a lot more from both.