I like whales and dolphins, and big fish.
I’ve been very lucky to grow up in a coastal area, and undertake a lot of work on the coast, and on islands, and consequently have had the good fortune to see various of these incredible animals up close, whether its killer whales leaping clear of the water, basking sharks sliding past my sea kayak or my local bottlenose dolphins that attract thousands of people to see them each year. Their presence is not something I’ll ever take for granted.
Seeing the animals is impressive enough but what never ceases to amaze me is the human response to these creatures. I’ve watched people with tears of joy on their faces after a huge dolphin has leaped clear of the water and stared them straight in the eye, and shared a waft of whale breath as a minke whale exhaled upwind of, and only a few metres from, the ferry to the Isle of Eigg one summers day, drifting a sour fishy mist over all of us delighted onlookers. Cetaceans are much more impressive in the flesh than on the pages of a book I have to say.
And now for an admission: I’m a closet poet. I’m going to finally step out of the closet and present one. I don’t write often, only when I’m angry.
Ok this is probably self-indulgent, but it’s not been written for you, only for me, and on behalf of my little boy William, aged 6, who thinks big things are fantastic, like dinosaurs, and whales, and dolphins too, and he’s been lucky enough to actually see the latter regularly.
And if you like it too that’s just a bonus. If you don’t like it, no sweat. They’re only words after all. But I guess what this post is about is how one thing feeds another, makes a connection or two, and produces something else that is perhaps a synthesis of it all.
I’m currently reading Tod Papageorge’s ‘Core Curriculum’ where I’ve delighted in his explorations of the links between photography and poetry, and where he remarks:
“….that at their best photography and poetry can share a near-blood relationship, a proposition easier to assert than to explain”.
And I liked that assertion of something I’d mulled over many times – the way the simple words of good poetry easily slide into your head but leave much of their interpretation to be uncovered by the scalpel of your personal preference. Or prejudice. Just like good images do.
A few years back I was photographing at an event in a run-down Edinburgh housing estate. Think Trainspotting, but in 3D and less colourful. And there was a graffiti artist painting a huge whale mural on a wall, a whale that had a giant smile on its face.
It made me smile too, because a few weeks earlier I’d listened to a Radio 4 broadcast about whaling featuring an apologist for the Japanese ‘scientific’ whaling industry, and he said
“It’s scientific, we dont waste anything. The only bits we don’t utilize are the brains and the blood. Everything else we use.”
And it had stuck in my mind. A simple throw-away line about their endeavours. And here I was a long long way from that rarefied world of ‘science’ that so easily justifies the destruction of an incredible living thing, and watching a ‘vandal’ actually create a whale, an irony that made me smile as I took the picture.
Some time later with the graffiti image in mind, I sat down in a reflective mood and recalled with some disquiet the apologist’s words, and this was the result:
They even sing (some people say)
Some people say
They must be just as smart as us
A few are even bigger than a bus!
They even sing, some people say.
But still we kill them, often, in our nets
Shoot them, harpoons ripping into flesh
Pen them, try to make them pets
THAR SHE BLOWS! we cry with glee
But will our children?
Or will they never see,
Just weep, and ask
They even sang?
Some people say
To justify the things men do
The only whale bits we don’t use
Are brains and bloody ooze
Brains and bloody ooze?
How apt I thought
The only bit that we don’t bloody use
(This post was previously published in 2012, and has been updated)