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Interactive Documentary Archive

The whale hunt

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By: Jonathan Harris
Project type: Web


Jonathan Harris is well known for his data visualization projects (We Feel Fine and Time Capsule, 2006).

In May 2007 he decided to document his trip to Barrow (Alaska) – where he went to assist to a whale hunt done by the Inupiat Eskimos – by taking 3,214 photographs in seven days.

The photographs were taken at five-minute intervals, even while sleeping (using a chronometer), establishing a constant “photographic heartbeat”. In moments of high adrenaline, this photographic heartbeat would quicken (to a maximum rate of 37 pictures in five minutes while the first whale was being cut up), mimicking the changing pace of my own heartbeat.

This is how Jonathan Harris explains the purpose of his project:

First, to experiment with a new interface for human storytelling. The photographs are presented in a framework that tells the moment-to-moment story of the whale hunt. The full sequence of images is represented as a medical heartbeat graph along the bottom edge of the screen, its magnitude at each point indicating the photographic frequency (and thus the level of excitement) at that moment in time. A series of filters can be used to restrict this heartbeat timeline, isolating the many sub-stories occurring within the larger narrative (the story of blood, the story of the captain, the story of the arctic ocean, etc.). Each viewer will experience the whale hunt narrative differently, and not necessarily in a linear fashion, constructing his or her own understanding of the experience.


The result is an incredible mosaic of photos that can be browsed by colour, by time, by intensity or by  keyword, in a very ludic way.

Find out more:

See the project and play with this amazing photographic interface at

See Jonathan Harris’ other projects on his own website

My comments:

I find this photographic project particularly elegant and sleeck looking. The photographic mosaic is really fun to navigate, and when one gets into specific photos the default patten is that photos keep coming as ina slide show in a somehow hypnotic mode.

Jonathan says that with the whale hunt he has created experimental interface for storytelling. I certainly thing that he is stretching narrative visualisation but I wonder what sort of storytelling this is. The narrative, although photographic, is clearly linear (cronological) while our entry point can be multiple.

I had fun, and something is fascinating in this project, but what is the documentation really gaining with this type of interface? Is it just clever or it is showing something more about reality?

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This entry was posted on Thursday, April 5th, 2007

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