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Jonathan and the Whale

Jonathan Harris chronicles an Inupiat whale hunt in 3,214 photos. In the process he may have reinvented how we tell stories.

The Inupiat of Barrow, Alaska, have been hunting whales the same way for a thousand years: with harpoons, throw lines, snow walls, and patience. Jonathan Harris has only had about a decade to play with his tools-his camera, computers, the internet-but last spring he had a chance to marry the Inupiat's traditions to our modern ones. His goal? To create a new paradigm for conveying information.From May 1 at 1:20 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on May 7, Harris took the photographs that resulted in The Whale Hunt, a web-based project that will launch in early December. On the site, Harris enhances the traditional photo narrative with a sophisticated filtering software that allows viewers to follow the story based on different criteria-say, a particular character, or a setting. Harris also took more photographs when the action got exciting, resulting in the "photographic heartbeat"-a pulse of information corresponding to the intensity of the action that is represented by an EKG-style line along the bottom of each page. It infuses the visual data with a sense of Harris's own excitement.Harris, whose innovative website We Feel Fine catalogs evidence of human emotion on the internet, created this project to "take an epic personal experience from the physical world and translate it optimally to the internet, so that many people can share it." In this case, the personal experience is a seven-day journey with Artic whale hunters, captured in a series of stunning photographs-3,214 in total.The result is a new way to engage with images and information. But for all of Harris's high design and technological guile, the real achievement may be much simpler. He has managed to add a new element to standard digital information presentation. In so doing, he has reinvigorated interest in one of our basic cultural building blocks: a good story, well told.

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