The Hunted Whale|
WW Norton & Company, 2013, 208pp, 245 color photographs, $39.95 hc
This is an extravagant photo essay about an extreme profession. Norton has pulled out all the stops, with color plates on just about every page, which include just about every tool, artifact, associated art (from scrimshaw to corset stays) that whale carcasses have ever contributed to. It is, essentially, a pictorial survey of the inelegant aspects of the whaling life, from the killing tools and boilers to the the purely practical products like lamp oil, made almost noble by the associated art and artifacts created by its practitioners.
Author, McGuane, is a master photographer as well as a sculptor and blacksmith. His knowledge of these arts richly informs the selection of the innumerable color plates in this book. From iron manacles to the wooden pegs in the bow of the whale boats (which keep the whale line from popping out of its groove after the harpooner had gotten fast to a whale) each photo of each tool is minutely considered for lighting, framing and composition. It is indeed an awesome accomplishment to represent tools of the whaling trade so elegantly.
The collections of all the major whaling museums are also represented: the Nantucket Whaling Museum, Mystic Seaport, Falmouth (MA) Museum, Nantucket Historical Association, New Bedford Whaling Museum, Martha's Vinyard Museum, Cold Spring Harbor Whaling Museum (for starters) as well as extensive private collections of, for instance, ships bells.
McGuane has thoroughly researched and richly represented in selected prints and museum artifacts, not only the hunt, and the processing the animals but also the incredible array of products which were rendered from the whale's body--not just the oil...although that was not just for lamp lighting but was in demand as a lubricant and as an ingredient in cosmetics as well as soap and candles. Whale bones, of course were most famously used in the construction of ladies' corsets...of which there are several photos of the most finely decorated corset "busks" included in the book. Scrimshaw is represented in seven color plates at the end of the book, which is practiced to this day: the face of Jack Kennedy adorns a whale tooth. He was apparently an "astute collector of scrimshaw."