My new series is about the final voyage of the whaleship Essex and its demise by ramming of an angry sperm whale leading to a harrowing 89 day, 2500 mile drift by whaleboat. Accounts from the few survivors have inspired sections of the whale attack in Melville’s, Moby Dick, and cannibalism in Edgar Allen Poe’s Narrative of Author Gordon Pym.
To me the voyage and tragedy represent a different era of American history. One that is built primarily on the quest for whale oil. Aside from the obvious romanticism of man at sea and the hardships thereof, the dubious task of taking down so large a mammal by hand relates humankinds ability to willingly enter into stupendous circumstances and risk everything. Harpooning a whale could take the better part of the day, with the whole whaleboat team rowing for miles upon miles to kill the whale and then haul it back to the boat for processing. That of course is if the whale didn’t rend their boat to splinters and send them all awash with a flick of its tail. Whaling was a primal enterprise and truly, few lines of work were as dangerous or as grizzly. These whale crews were also explorers, escaped convicts and slaves, outcasts, and men searching for themselves at sea. Their trade put them not only at risk of the elements, but presented enormous strain on their bodies, psyche, and thus their futures.
My series is not about glorifying the hunt or the killing of these whales, but it is about the idea of setting yourself adrift and truly pursuing something. I am interested in thinking about what these people experienced not in the eye of the whale or moment of the hunt, but in the world and sea around them as they drift the vast oceans and brave the unknown and volatile environment so far from the comforts of land. The pieces focus on place, in fact specific points on the map, and distinct moments as I see them through the eyes of those who may have traveled before me. They are not based on photographs and internet queries, but narratives and course plotting’s of travels past and of ideas of an invented ocean that perhaps my history as a human knows better than my own eyes.
This series is still being built and the ideas around the pieces must to have room to grow and evolve, but for now this is the path I have laid out to navigate.