Power of photographs is often debated, but in some areas, their influence was undeniable. One of the most shared images on Iconic Photos in last 12 months have been this picture of a Faroese whale hunt.
Similar outrage was had in 1969 when Duncan Cameron took a picture of a Canadian seal clubber in Northumberland Strait. Photography as a medium is always at its most powerful when it deals with ‘anterior future’ — images which foreshadows a future event good or ill (but mostly ill), such as photos taken before executions, at firing squads, or in disaster zones. Cameron’s image is one such: the ice floes looked so spotless, the baby seal so innocent, and the longing look of its mother in the background so heartrending that the anterior future here was particularly cruel.
The photo bookended a debate which began five years earlier when a Montreal cameracrew took similar pictures. Many consumers stopped buying fur, and some countries banned seal-fur imports from Canada. Jack Davis, Canada’s Minister of Fisheries noted, “A lot of young people in distant countries now think of Canada only in terms of seals,” and in October 1969, Canada banned the killing of month-old seal pups and banned clubbing seals of any age to death.
A total seal hunting ban proved to be more difficult. Older seals had fewer defenders. Davis added, “the animal is no longer as cute as it was,” and the Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau noted “Those who protest won’t be shown the same photographs of baby seals with their big blue or brown eyes.” Protests by environmental activists in the 1970s and the 1980s led to many seal hunters, some of them indigenous peoples, leaving their local community and selling their properties to oil drillers, causing unintended environmental damage.