INTERVIEW WITH AUTHOR AND MERMAID PIER NIRANDARA @piersgreatperhaps
Firstly can you tell me a little about yourself?
Hi ! My name is Pier, and I’m an author, photographer, and traveller — but most of all, I’m a storyteller at heart. As a lifelong lover of the ocean and it’s habitants (fantastical or otherwise), I began my career writing bestselling children’s novels, which led to working as Brand Ambassador for the Bangkok Metropolitan/UNESCO, where I spoke at TEDx and various conferences/schools/book fairs on the importance of literature.
My heavy involvement in Asia’s literary scene led to a job in Hollywood bringing stories to the big screen. Most recently, I took a break from the corporate world to embark on a solo backpacking trip across 20 or so countries, looking to face my fears, seek adventure, and advocate for marine conservation. To date, I have been fortunate enough to visit over 80 countries across all 7 continents.
How did this journey as a travel influencer begin?
I left my full-time job in Hollywood summer of 2018. Upon graduating from Tufts University in Boston, I immediately started working and quickly got sucked into the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles. A scuba diving trip to South Africa changed everything. I spent a week on a small boat, whizzing up and down the Wild Coast, hoping to catch some action and photograph the famed sardine run. This is not your typical liveaboard scuba diving situation, but rather a pure, wild ride of an expedition. Nicknamed the “Blue Serengeti,” it’s an adrenaline-filled and heart-pounding activity — think swimming with sharks, dolphins, birds, and whales as they hunt baitballs of fish in frenzied feeding. For those with nerves of steel and who don’t mind jumping into shark-infested waters, there’s the chance to scuba dive the greatest shoal on earth.
I returned to California a different person, constantly feeling like my life was moving so fast, but I wasn’t really living it. I ended up making the conscious decision to take a break from a corporate career to focus on writing, photography, and travel. As someone who’s always liked being in control, this was incredibly nerve-wracking, as it represented stage 1 of facing my fears—a phrase that’s become a personal mantra since then.
What inspires your creative vision ?
The elements of fantasy and conservation play prominent roles in my work, and my photography focuses on capturing vivid images that expose deeper issues around the world, and particularly under the sea. Empathy is also an important facet to what I do, and travel and reading are two of the best ways to increase empathy in the world. The more I dive, the more difficult it is for me to remain indifferent to our changing planet. I am perpetually humbled to share the ocean with such creatures. It’s impossible to have close encounters with marine wildlife and not feel something stirring inside. I’m hoping my photography can somewhat convey this feeling, and help encourage sustainable, personal encounters with marine animals as the first step to breaking down the walls of apathy by forging a connection between humans and wildlife.
What do you feel has contributed to your success?
I feel that people resonate with a solo female traveler striking out on her own, particularly one who is a photographer in a field often dominated by men. In my work, I always try to evoke a sense of adventure for something larger than ordinary life. There’s a Japanese word, “setsunai,” that loosely translates to heartrendering emotion. I think that’s such a beautiful concept. You know that feeling you have after reading a mindblowing book, seeing a film that touches you, or watching a blazing sunset over the ocean? Something stirs within your soul. My life goal has always been to convey that sort of profundity to someone else as well.
Tell me about first novel, what inspired you to write?
My first novel, “The Mermaid Apprentices,” was published when I was 15 years old, making me Thailand’s youngest English-writing author. Growing up in a multicultural environment inspired me to write a children's series that tackled themes of identity, prejudice, morality, and social responsibility. Thoguh it’s a fantasy novel, there are themes of marine conservation and social responsibility threaded throughout. I hope that through my work, I’m able to encourage people—especially women—to face their fears, strike out on their own, and seek adventure…while bringing attention to fragile ecosystems and marine wildlife.
What Three things does anyone interested in becoming a travel blogger need to know?
Don’t call yourself an influencer.
Stay humble, stay hungry. There’s always someone who’ll be better than you, and there’ll always be more to learn.
It’s important to keep perspective—you can be traveling the world but unhappier than the person stuck in a cubicle. You can be surrounded by people and yet feel completely and utterly alone. Happiness is a state of mind, not a destination. And there’s a difference between temporary, fleeting happiness, and long-term satisfaction.
Who are your greatest creative inspirations and why?
Paul Nicklen and Cristina Mittermeier are some of my favorite photographers—their images evoke such an emotional response, and they genuinely push to change legislature regarding conservation efforts. For unadulterated love of the ocean and pure freedom, it doesn’t get better than Chris Burkard’s surf photography ! Also, Kimberly Jeffries is one of my new favorites. Her work is incredibly underrated, and her interaction with marine wildlife is truly respectful without encroaching on their space or doing it for online fame—there are too many times I see “conservationists” riding sharks or touching wildlife. I’m so glad to see her getting the recognition she deserves for her images with the great white shark, Deep Blue.
What is the most challenging aspect of being a photographer?
Remaining authentic — there's such an insane pressure to be perfect. I recently shared a 100% RAW image with zero edits to emphasize the importance of reality. I’m way more photo naturalist than Photoshop master, and am a proponent for as minor editing as possible to convey the desired message, declaring anything major / reality-altering, and letting the image speak for itself (it also forces you to become a better photographer!) But with all the ridiculously flawless images out there nowadays, it’s difficult to feel comfortable posting something so raw and real.
How do you decide which brands to work with?
It’s easy to be swayed by various companies asking you to be their “ambassador.” Oftentimes, it’s a terrible deal! You’re offering them free advertising in exchange for a watch, or a t-shirt…only do so if you truly believe in the product, or you’ll just come off as disingenuous. Consumers and can smell product placement miles away.
This industry has become very competitive, how do you stay on top of the game and remain so humble.
By accepting that I’ll never be the best at everything, and that there’s always room for learning and for growth. For example, I think I’m a better photographer than I am an editor. And when it comes to anything above the water...the aesthetic instincts don’t come naturally. The subtle blending of colors, palettes, shadows...I look at so many photos online and marvel at the way they distill an image down to its bare essentials — fading elements out to highlight others, removing distractions and painting beauty in simplicity. Perhaps it’s the same in my relationship with the written word — I’ve always been a tad verbose in text, too. Fine editing is a skill I have yet to acquire, but I’m working on it.
You have been to so many beautiful destinations , Where was your favourite and why?
An area I hold near and dear to my heart is South Africa’s Wild Coast. It’s where I experienced the sardine run—the trip that changed everything and inspired me to leave the comfort of the corporate world, strap on a backpack, and hit the road. My new book is set there, and it’s truly one of the most magnificent coastlines on earth.
However, if there’s one singular spot that completely blew my mind, it’s Swallow’s Cave in Tonga. This site is filled to the brim with massive schools of shimmering sardines. At the right time of day, in clear conditions, the sunlight slices through the blue in golden shafts. It’s a photographer’s paradise, and I spent hours diving through the glittering shoals of fish. To me, this is what heaven looks like.
What have you learnt about photography over the years that you can share for anyone wanting to improve their own imagery?
Beauty doesn’t have to be loud. There is grace in subtlety, in simplicity, and in muted pastels. In turn, there’s more to photography than painting a pretty picture. Try to tell a story, or deliver a sense of something more. Photographs have the ability to evoke true change for the greater good.
What's next for you, any new projects?
I always have various endeavors I’m working on—from organizing diving expeditions, to working in Hollywood, to other creative projects. The biggest one right now is probably combining my love for travel, writing, and the ocean into a new book called “Chasing the Rising Sun.” It’s a young “Eat, Pray, Love” set in South Africa, and explores backpacking culture, solo female travel, and the relationship between travel and love. Even though it’s technically fictional, there are definitely scenes, characters, and places inspired by real events.
Finally, what would be your message to the world?
There’s a saying, “We don’t develop courage by being comfortable.” This past summer, I left the comfort of the corporate world and set off on a solo backpacking adventure. My goal ? To face fears — whether physical, mental, or emotional. After half a year of full on fear, I discovered that:
1) Fear is temporary, regret is permanent
2) Once you face your fears, they no longer have the power to evoke anxiety, stress, or panic
3) There is courage in the uncomfortable
So face your fears, take the plunge, and sail the seas of consequence.