Discussion 8 10 comments


This week, let’s discuss the visual storytelling experiment undertaken by Jonathan Harris, an artist and writer who combines “elements of computer science, anthropology, visual art and storytelling.”

Go to The Whale Hunt and explore the site. There is no right way to enter or progress through the site; you should look around and pay attention to how the story being told there unfolds for you.

 

“The purpose of this project was threefold:

Hauling up a 36 foot Bowhead

Hauling up a 36 foot Bowhead

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.

Harvesting the whale

Harvesting the whale

Second, to subject myself to the same sort of incessant automated data collection process that I usually write computer programs to conduct (in previous projects like We Feel Fine, Lovelines, Universe, 10×10, and Phylotaxis). Much effort is spent making computers understand what it’s like to be human (through data mining and artificial intelligence), but rarely do humans try to see things from a computer’s perspective. I was interested in reaching some degree of empathy with the computer, a constant thankless helper in my work.

Third, to take an epic personal experience from the physical world and translate it optimally to the Internet, so that many people can share it.”

 

How does Harris’s work differ from the storytelling we’ve been reading thus far? How is it similar? What do you think of his approach?


About Madara Mason

Madara Mason's hats include painter, graphic designer, Instructional Designer, faculty educator, English Instructor, food blogger, and Oxford Comma Aficionado. If she's not in front of an easel, she's in front of a screen, or in front of a classroom. Her motto is "If you're not having fun, you're probably doing it wrong."

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10 thoughts on “Discussion 8

  • LaVon Shearer-Ihrig

    Wow, I am still trying to figure out what my thoughts are towards this type of approach in storytelling. In some ways I found the different methods of approaching the story, confusing. Pinwheel or mosaic, loved the concept of it and I realize with our desire to obtain more and more of our information and stories from online, we no longer have a linear approach to storytelling or how we read stories. Our world of literacy is becoming multi-leveled. I didn’t really catch all the sub themes in the story until he stated that there were these additional themes of blood, the captain and then the whole story of the whaling. I did capture the sense of how long the journey took to get to Barrow, and how time passed slowly until the whale was landed. The blood pictures did not bother me, so much as I found them too redundant. It is a said that a “picture is worth a thousand words”, but in truth I found the pictures were not enough, I wanted more explanation, more description than what the pictures portrayed. Perhaps it was that I had to form the descriptions that went with the pictures instead of being told what the images were. It is some ways a reverse form of what we do when we read than when we just look at pictures that tell a story. I must be honest and say that I am not sure how to compare his story with the authors in the book. I do not see it as similar other than the images of ice and the cold, the process of subsistence hunting being celebrated and respected as we have seen in some of the stories through out the book. Maybe it is that I am still old fashioned and I really just prefer to read than look at pictures and therefore struggling to see similarities. I am sure this still part of my aversion to graphic novels. I have not found them to be as enjoyable. That is not to say they cannot be as profound or complex but simply it is my reader preference. Perhaps it is the challenge I miss of allowing my mind to create the images based on the words of the author. Overall, I am intrigued by his method of storytelling, but am not sure of my overall feelings or how I can compare it. I am hoping that perhaps some of my classmates and their ideas on this will give me a greater insight into what I may be missing.

  • Aaron

    I would say this experiment by Jonathan Harris was a success, not only because it was presented in such an artistic fashion and the photograph quality was excellent but because it just highlights the action so well with the medical heartbeart graph. Harris’ work differs from the storytelling we’ve been reading thus far because this Internet documentation is presented through a digital interface rather than ink on paper. This Inupiat Whale Hunt was creatively documented thanks to elements of computer science. Its efficient in letting you skim to “the good parts” and avoid montonous sections such as when he’s sleeping, while also putting the whole story in a chronological sequence which the viewer can choose to view at their own perspective. I wouldn’t necessarily say this narrative helped me to see things from a computer’s perspective…perhaps I lack the mechanical incessant automated data collection processing abilities.

    I thought it was interesting that instead of a simple hunting knife, there’s a unique tool for the slice job in cutting up hunks of muktuk–a whaling spade. To no surprise, for me the harvest itself was gruesome and bloody. The exposed carcass! Those crimson-stained muktuk strips and the blood puddles! It was vicariously exhilarating to watch the whale’s massive body getting more and more drawn up onto the ice edge in progression with each passing photograph; a “tug of war” as all the hunting participants are shown battling this gigantic marine beast out of the icy seawater. I actually found myself getting pumped up during this particular section of the slideshow, almost if it were a UFC fight. A short caption such as “Hauling Up the Whale”, accompanied with sharp images of the action is sufficient to share this experience with the entire world–no written lengthy narration was necessary in perfectly conveying the hunt. Some of the images were really proud and iconic of their whale hunting culture, such as the Ahkivgaq family flag posted on the sea ice with a sunset background over the Arctic Ocean after their successful harvest. Its just too bad that this once wholesome resource is now so tainted by the industrial revolution– persistent organic pollutants in marine food chains (especially those of high latitudes) are affecting the health of northern peoples that consume traditional game food sources. Heavy metals and other nasty stuff bio-accumulates in whale fat. The semi-volatility of substances such as DDT means that its taken up into the atmosphere and disproportionately collects in cold regions when the POP’s condense and stay. This is yet another environmental issue scientists are researching into the now.

  • Patricia

    Jonathan Harris’ work explains how Inupiat Eskimos hunt whales in Barrow through a series of consecutive photographs with more than 3000 photographs according to his website thewhalehunt.org. This work is for sure different than the stories we have read so far from the book “The Last New Land” by Mergler, where all the stories are presented in text and without pictures. Harris presents information mainly with pictures, which is an innovative way to present his work. It is important to take into consideration that he used the Internet and created a website which requires people to have Internet connection and have basic computer skills. Regarding the storytelling we have been reading, the richness is found in the words, where pictures are not necessary and where we all can imagine a scenario from what we read. I think that it is more difficult to write stories and it is easier to take pictures. In the statement link from Harris, the information is presented with text accompanied with some pictures through the statement link (not all the more than 3000 photographs but a few of them) . Regarding the highlights link, this website shows pictures from the author from the moment he traveled by plane to Barrow until when he reached Barrow and shows all the different moments involved with the whale hunting in this location. I think that telling a story with a lot of pictures can be very attractive visually but it depends on the topic. I did not like seeing the pictures where the whale had blood, and showed pieces of it because it was too graphic. I personally prefer to read a book because I can use my mind and let my creativity work when I read and thin about the words used by the author.

  • Kari

    The graphic images of John Harris’s work could take someone’s breathe away. “The Whale Hunt,” displays more than just one story, it was a story and experience of a group related project to hunt the whale. You could see each individual’s story thru this digit archive without words. I felt like I was experiencing the journey with these individuals that I had no clue what their names were. I could only guess what word a person might address or refer to them as. Each individual had different facial expression, different movements, and a different job. Instead of one story, we got many individual stories, and even our own story about the display of images.
    I noticed the facial expressions of many individuals as they were pulling up the whale together and this one man in the blue jacket jumped over the whale’s tale, as many individuals were working their butts off. Just this one experience in John Harris’s digital archive could be a number of short stories that could have made a novella. I believe Harris wanted other individuals to observe the facts of the event that took place and to gather their own encounter from the visual representation of whale hunting. I was able to see the tools that they were using as material objects, which could be seen or touched by the hunters. The colors, the texture, the shape, and the size of tools was displayed in a digital image for me to see. The ice drill was a machine with a red drill bit that was approximately four feet in length. The pulley that was used was wooden, with grey medal hooks, and a green rope that thread through the tool.
    There were some individuals in the tent, others outside by the boat, and other individuals that were hunting the whale. The difference between the short stories in the “The Last New Land” literature book by Mergler and John Harris digital archive is that one displays words and the other displays images. A short story in Mergler’s book would display one story of an individual’s experience and Harris digital archive displayed many individual’s experience in an Alaskan event. Each individual story is going to be different, even if they are experiencing the same event. An individual’s placement in time; to plan, schedule, or arrange their own experience in an event, is what makes each person’s own story unique. If something should happen or for something to be done in a particular event is the choice that each human being is able to make. Whether one person decides to eat poor man’s spaghetti, or even if a person decides to chill in a tent with others is the choice that distinguishes one person’s perceptual experience from the next person’s introspective observation of facts on a particular event.
    Time, placement, setting, and experience makes a story great. Every person has a different climax in a story that is told within a different perspective. I could gather my own perspective experience in the digital archive without words. It is hard for me to gather a different perspective in the short stories, “The Last New Land” by Mergler; on how someone felt in their particular setting within their own written story, because it was set in stone with their own coherent words that describe an event. With this point I would say bravo, to express my approval of John Harris’s work in creating an open stage of “The Whale Hunt.” For John Harris to give details within images of an event that took place in real life; without words to interfere in the experience as a whole, and to capture many individual stories, was truly worthy of our attention.

  • Imaginary Chaos

    How does Harris’s work differ from the storytelling we’ve been reading thus far? How is it similar? What do you think of his approach?

    I like Harris’s approach to storytelling with his use of pictures. It is much different than what we’ve been reading in the Last New Land: Stories of Alaska Past and Present which only tells stories through text. I think both ways of storytelling do show creativity though. Some of the poems in the book are written creatively and Harris’s use of the pictures to tell stories is very creative.
    I think there could be some problems with telling stories through only pictures, some people might not get the story that he’s trying to tell or they might interpret it differently. Some people like to have the actual text to read what’s going on instead of looking at pictures. Also I think that the pictures changed too quickly so that it was difficult to take in all of each picture; there could also be too many pictures of the same thing. But I do think it is a very interesting way to tell stories and it could be very popular.
    Personally I like reading the story better than seeing it though pictures. Although, the pictures are nice and can answer some questions sometimes I still think that maybe if he added words to some of the pictures it would have been better. Also reading it is better than looking at just 20-30 pictures of someone sleeping on a plane. I think it’s a personal preference as to whether someone likes to read or to look at pictures.

  • Caroline Streeter

    What a unique website! It is minimal in its’ approach, yet incredibly in-depth. I was stunned by the concept of the website, and feel that Jonathan Harris definitely accomplished all of the goals he set for himself. This website is completely different from the stories read thus far. This website is interactive and dynamic. Important details like ‘cast’ names and locations are mentioned. Jonathan’s journey becomes the viewers own journey, step by step. Harris shares details and glimpses into his adventure that a written account could not necessarily capture, unless given in a journal format; like what he had for breakfast, or the trinkets in a gift shop.
    One aspect that I noticed is his perspective as an Outsider, for example, capturing several images of a man working on a snowmachine and riding on it. As someone from Alaska, this is something I would not readily take pictures of. For Harris, he may have never ridden on one before, or perhaps was impressed at the amount of use the machines get.
    The only downside I can imagine about the beautiful website is needing internet connection to ‘read it’. If someone from Barrow wanted to browse the pictures after the website was published, perhaps they might have trouble viewing it.

  • LaVon Shearer-Ihrig

    I know I am posting twice, but I really wanted to get a feel of how others interpreted John Harris story “The Whale Hunt” and instead of posting a remark after each post, I thought I would post a comment on what I may have learned through my classmates and this particular assignment. I wanted to see what I could learn because I really felt it was an interesting and unique way of telling a story. As our lives become more involved in technology, I do not think this will be the first and last time we see a story presented in this fashion. It seems that a good deal of my class mates really appreciated this new approach and are able to articulate a far better analysis than I was able to. I really felt at the time I was missing the ability to think about it critically. What I found interesting, as I read through the comments, is that I did see the details but some were so obvious to me, I actually ignored them! I did notice some of the details that many mentioned, and yet I missed a great deal as well. I am going to use Kari’s remark often because she really pointed out some interesting differences and details: “I noticed the facial expressions of many individuals as they were pulling up the whale together and this one man in the blue jacket jumped over the whale’s tale.” I will be honest, I saw the expressions and yet they did not register the same for me. In fact, I find myself wondering why I missed these details such as the human expression within the story. However, I like what Kari had to say about this very difference,
    “A short story in Mergler’s book would display one story of an individual’s experience and Harris digital archive displayed many individual’s experience in an Alaskan event. Each individual story is going to be different, even if they are experiencing the same event. An individual’s placement in time; to plan, schedule, or arrange their own experience in an event, is what makes each person’s own story unique…Time, placement, setting, and experience makes a story great… I could gather my own perspective experience in the digital archive without words. It is hard for me to gather a different perspective in the short stories, “The Last New Land” by Mergler; on how someone felt in their particular setting within their own written story, because it was set in stone with their own coherent words that describe an event.
    Her position on how one may interpret a textual story versus a visual story made me realize that I was not really missing anything. I was able to recognize the story; I saw the details such as the tools, tents, snow machines, tents and survival food and was able to quickly understand their place within the story. However, I have had the opportunity to see these details and even the tools they use for hunting in person. So I am wondering if that is why I found myself not as attracted in this type of approach to the story.

    However there were other details that confounded me, and I wanted to ask a hundred questions, such as: the snow fence. What purpose did it serve? Why and how was it constructed? Does it have cultural or spiritual meaning? Why do the men wear white gear? (I can understand if they were hunting seals, but it was a whale hunt. Is it traditional or just simply outerwear with no real significance?

    I think that I kept looking for a different way to analyze the storyline because it was visual and not textual and I think I missed the basics. This has been a valuable lesson for me. I have never been very good at analyzing art and found this particularly true when I took the required GER Art Appreciation course and I think there was part of me that was reluctant to even try and analyze. Instead of looking at it as art (even though it is art, it is also a textual media, which the same rhetorical methods of analysis should apply). Aaron’s remarks reminded me of this when he said, “A short caption such as “Hauling Up the Whale”, accompanied with sharp images of the action is sufficient to share this experience with the entire world—no written lengthy narration was necessary in perfectly conveying the hunt. Some of the images were really proud and iconic of their whale hunting culture, such as the Ahkivgaq family flag posted on the sea ice with a sunset background over the Arctic Ocean after their successful harvest.”
    I agree with many of my classmates. It was brilliant and the quality of the pictures is amazing. It is certainly a story about Alaska and a very detailed, visual experience. I may still reserve my first feelings on about reading a story in this way and preferring a textual versus a picture presentation but I have also learned that we can approach a visual and textual storytelling in the same way. Perhaps the first step is to keep an open mind.
    There is one thing that I would like to note: I thought about how time was a strong presence in John Harris work and I kept thinking back to the story by Sam Keith, “The Birth of a Cabin” and the time sequence presented in that story. Both have monotonous details within them, and at the same time moments of excitement and human emotion; however it is the media that is changed to present those details. Each presented the passage of time in Alaska in a very unique way, and yet the reader was clearly able to experience this due to the ability of the author to use language and images.

  • Chad Hinders

    The visual storytelling Harris presents in The Whale Hunt is a dramatic departure from our reading material in the fact that this story is one that can be pulled apart and dramatically altered so that the traditional linear storyline disappears. I enjoyed the ability to filter in and out of themes to explore the story from a variety of perspectives.

    Even thought the traditional narrative stream was not always followed, the overall impression of the project remained unified. By simplifying the story through the use of visual imagery and only the basest of written narrative found in the pictures’ captions, Harris was able to present the experience of the whale hunt without having to depend on his own emotional filters and perceptions. One of his goals was to gain empathy with computers through using technology to convey a very human and visceral story into a format resembling a computer program. The result was a story that portrayed the spirit and experience of the whale hunt as close to living the real event as possible.

    It was as if Harris was the vessel through which the story opened up to be presented as it occurred. He was the lens that focused on the story and the computer allowed me to then vicariously experience the event through his eyes. However, isn’t that really all authors are trying to do through their prose? To capture a moment rather real or imagined and then relay that event to the reader? Although Harris uses digital photography and algorithms to get his ideas across, the concept is the same as Jack London using the 26 letters of the alphabet to get his story out.

    But, Harris is able to diverge drastically from the majority of our text so far by introducing the capability to present his story in a non-linear format. Most of our reading so far has followed a rather predictable format of introduction exposition and conclusion necessary to traditional storytelling. The only exception has been the poetry. Poetry often feels the need to strike out beyond the realm where traditional literary formats rule and fly about unfettered by tradition and linear storytelling. In fact, I would say that The Whale Hunt could be called a digital poem instead of a digital story.

    The contrast between the literature we have been reading in Last New Land and the digital story of The Whale Hunt also lies in the difference of telling stories with words as opposed to telling stories through pictures. Stories like White Fang and The White Seal rely on emotion to tell the story and convey both images and feeling to the story. Through using pictures, the imagery is provided, but the emotional attachment and reactions to the story are left up to the interpretation of the observer. This leads to seeing the story through your own filters, rather than the experiences of the author.

  • Nikki

    How does Harris’s work differ from the storytelling we’ve been reading thus far? How is it similar? What do you think of his approach?

    For me personally I prefer pictures over text. Through pictures you feel the emotion and are able to see a clear picture. There is no guessing or closing our eyes and trying to see what our author is writing about. The raw emotions are pictured. The scenery is pictured. The individuals that are involved in the whale hunt are pictured with their traditional wear. We are able to see their tools and weapons. I thought it was really awesome there is a story behind all the captured images, almost as if we are playing a slow film. It’s similar in the way that it has a story line. The goal of the men is to catch a whale and we are able to see the climax build up throughout the images. It is different in that we are not able to hear or understand what all these men are thinking or feeling in those moments. We can try to understand their excitement and fears but we do not know for sure. I really enjoyed this because I have never seen a whale hunt before so I felt like I had just witnessed my first whale hunt.

    Each hunter has a different feeling, expressions, and emotions. Each of them can tell their own story if they wanted to. This can be a story. Poem. Short film. Anything the reader wants it to be. We hold the power in how we view this beautifully captured work.

  • Cherie

    I really enjoyed the visual story that Harris told. It was very different from the stories we’ve been reading because it was done with pictures and very few words. At first, I thought that this type of storytelling was going to make it difficult to understand, but that was not the case at all. I found it to be very interesting. I liked the heartbeat timeline on the bottom, because it let me know when exciting things were going to happen. As I watched the story unfold, I thought about how this type of storytelling would be fun once am a teacher. I think it would be a fun and creative way for students to tell a story.

    I feel that this way of storytelling is similar to what we’ve been reading because it depicts a story about Alaska Native culture. There also is a good flow in the story and a climatic ending. As I stated, at first I felt that this type of storytelling wouldn’t be effective, but I am seriously considering trying this myself. I think it would be a fun way to tell a story and am going to see if my nieces and nephew want to make a visual story with me. The more I think about it, the more excited I get. In the fall, I start my student teaching year at a local elementary school. If I make a visual story this summer, I may be able to incorporate visual storytelling into a lesson plan for my student teaching year.