Done any jigsaw puzzles lately?
By Claire Ferguson
Georg Popp and Verena Popp-Hackner are longtime professional nature photographers based out of Vienna, Austria. They have been traveling the globe together for almost 30 years chasing after show-stopping scenery and breathtaking landscapes. While their work exhibits everything from meadows, forests, and mountain ranges to coastlines and the like, they do not miss the opportunity to appreciate nature’s smaller, more delicate creations. Their goal is to surprise their viewers and encourage them to look at a photograph a little longer, whether it be a landscape, a single tree, or seashells.
Georg explains that they approach their work with curiosity, and that exploring always leads to beaches. Although his interest in beachcombing was sparked at a young age while vacationing in Greece and Yugoslavia as a kid, Georg and Verena have found inspiration together on their numerous sea kayaking trips. Since the early 1990s, they have visited South America, Baja California (in Mexico), British Columbia, Norway, Australia, Alaska, and more finding various seashells and treasures on little islands. Georg says, “We take photos of them was a way of collecting them, since we almost never could take much with us.”
Georg and Verena’s passion for the outdoors has carried on throughout their lives and career, and they love bringing their daughters Stella and Livia along with them on their adventures. He explains that they never miss a chance to explore a beach, especially if it looks hidden or rarely visited. Their favorite spots are wild, open places that are hard to get to and see heavy storms regularly, with a lot of rocks in the water.
“When we see a lonely beach, full with wood and trash—that’s like a magnet,” says Georg. They’ll collect anything the ocean throws out that is empty and not alive, including seashells, sea glass, driftwood, and fish mummified by the tropical sun. “Anything that looks eerie!” It has to be small enough to board the plane home. If it’s beautiful but large, or it’s prohibited to take it (which happens often) they will photograph it.
Georg is particularly inspired by old hand-drawn nature plates that were used to identify various species in the 19th century. He collects sea urchin skeletons wherever he can find one. “There are so many variations and they live everywhere,” according to Georg. “There is not too much literature about them available—at least not with good photos, which makes it even more exciting. It’s always interesting to find new ones. Collecting any new species/family/group of a marine shell is interesting because it shows the endless variety of nature,” he explains. He also collects abalone from Alaska, Baja Mexico, Europe, Australia, New Zealand and more, varying in size according to each location.
“Firsts” are Georg’s favorite finds. “Finding that first piece of red sea glass, or a sea urchin you don’t recognize. If you find that rare piece a second time, it’s still exciting but just not as exciting anymore.”
Keeping record of these special finds has been more for Georg and Verena’s personal enjoyment, as they rarely use the photos commercially. In fact, they were surprised to stumble upon one of their photographs from a sea kayaking trip on the Sea of Cortez (between the Baja California Peninsula and the Mexican mainland) used for a seashell puzzle featured in Beachcombing magazine. During the lockdowns, Georg had some time to sort through his beachcombing collection and is currently working on a photo project for it. Today, he and Verena continue to work out of their photo gallery in Vienna and are excited to feature more of their collection on their website in the future.
See more of Georg and Verena’s photos at popphackner.com
This article appeared in the Beachcombing Magazine September/October 2021 issue.