When people talk about whaling in the modern era, theyre talking about minke whales. Politically, theyre probably the most important whale, and maybe the most numerous. Yet the average person doesnt know anything about them. But with such strong research on minkes, we were able to come up with a story that helped us connect the readers and the whales. It was great being part of that.
After Japanese biologists sample whales for research, they sell the meat. I wanted to show where it goes, so I decided to photograph people dining at a fancy Tokyo restaurant. That proved to be a challenge. The restaurant was dark and busy, so I couldnt do any preparation. I also knew that if I asked permission to take the shots and it was denied, I would have to accept the denial as final. So I decided to get the photographs in a roundabout way: blending in, being as unobtrusive as possible with minimal equipment, and taking tourist shots of the clientele every so often while talking them up and still trying for magazine-quality photographs. The pictures turned out fine, but it was difficult. As a wildlife photographer, Id never worked that way before.
Doug Chadwick and I arrived in the Lofoten Island area ready to go out on a whaling boat. We wanted to show the Norwegian side of the whaling controversy, presenting them as hardworking people who see whale hunting as fishing. We had been preparing for almost two years, talking to people in Oslo who gave us introductions and assured us we would be able to go on a boat. As it turned out, we spent three weeks trying, but it never happened. We were only allowed to follow a whaler in another boat.
After a while it felt like we were in the movie Groundhog Day. Every day we were all set to go, and every day we were given a new and creative reason why we couldntalways with the promise that the problem would be resolved.
We could understand if the Norwegians were reluctant and just being polite. But it got to be bizarre. We finally ran out of time, and on the day I was leaving I got a phone call just like all the others: You know, if you stay just one more day I think weve got this all figured out, the guy said. Then I said, You know, I dont believe you. Im going home.