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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A New Look at Whales: Dreamy, Hyperreal and in Exquisite Detail, 25 May 2013
This review is from: Beautiful Whale (Hardcover)
I am familiar with some of the images in this book, as, in Tokyo in December 2010, I helped produce the Beautiful Whale Project exhibition of Bryant Austin's photographs, as well as the accompanying symposium "New Tales about Whales in Science, Society & Art" at the United Nations University. We put up big whale posters in the subways and the extensive press coverage guaranteed an audience. Day after day in the gallery, we all stood with whale biologists, conservationists and an ex-whaler, as well as young Japanese professionals, families and school children, and we talked about the photographs. There was a quiet sense of awe at the enormous size, but then the human eye was drawn to the eye of the whale in many of the photos. A bit of magic started to happen.

Pulled in by curiosity, people noted various things as they looked into the eye, but a prevailing line of comments circled around impressions of the whale's being, that the whale seemed to have deep compassion, a knowing sense, a capacity for life, something that humans could share and learn from. The reactions were mostly whispered or scribbled in a mix of Japanese characters and katakana in the guestbook, and on most days, we noticed a few people dabbing a tear.

And now we have the book (mine arrived this week as a welcome review copy). It is suitably big--15 x 12 inches (39 x 31 cm)--and heavy at 4 pounds (1.7 kg). It is a visual feast--a stunning piece of bookmaking with lovely endpapers, jacket and cover design in the tradition of high quality Abrams editions. And here are Bryant's whales, a fresh look at whales, with numerous detailed photos that highlight different parts of the body as well as full body images.

The book includes only three species of whales photographed in tropical seas: humpback, sperm and minke whales. Some readers may wonder why more whale species or behaviors are not featured in more areas of the ocean. These are whales on the breeding and calving grounds but there are no actual births, mating incidents, feeding or other behaviors involving action. Instead, this is a book focusing on a handful of individual whales that stopped to rest or to show a bit of curiosity toward the photographer and ended up being documented in fine detail.

A few of the pages of the book pull out to show nearly five feet of whale (1.5 metre-long). For example, the minke whale "Ella" was photographed over 5 days in 2009 and 15 images were put together to create a 6 foot high by 30 foot long image (nearly 2 x 9.5m). This was the centerpiece of our exhibition in Tokyo and it stands out in the book as well: The swaths of color along the body, the deep crease marks above the flippers, the scratches along the ultra streamlined body, and finally, the eye, the great swiveling eye, with splashes of color in the iris. Is it a window to a whale's soul?

Enjoy this new look at whales. We can only hope and wait for a sequel. Austin's search for a massive blue whale is already under way. Hopefully, there is a blue whale that has time to slow down and pose for a detailed portrait. I can hardly wait to see the result.

- Erich Hoyt, Senior Research Fellow, WDC, Whale and Dolphin Conservation; Director, Far East Russia Orca Project; Author, Weird Sea Creatures, The Earth Dwellers, Orca: The Whale Called Killer, and Marine Protected Areas for Whales, Dolphins & Porpoises.

© Erich Hoyt 2013
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Location: North Berwick, Scotland

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