170310 ROM Blue - matthew piers robertson • photography writing creative toronto

Blue whales are big. Really, really big. They're almost too big to see; they're certainly too big to photograph. 

Today was the first day of the ROM Blue Whale exhibit "Out of the Depths: the Blue Whale Story". To see a blue whale skeleton in person is amazing. To see it where Chihuly's undersea glass installation was just a few months ago is disconcerting. To try to photograph it, for me so far, has proven unexpectedly challenging. Even my trusty Theta 360 camera couldn't cope with the scale of the skeleton; the panorama below was stitched from photos taken with my GR. And despite carrying a white balance reference with me the blue and varied lighting proved beyond my skills, so this round has taken shelter in black and white.

There is also an accompanying audio installation, which was my second-favourite part of the show. It's a looping pair of calls accompanied by a video and soundform display, but the depths of some of the notes could only be felt… and heard in the rattling of various fixtures around the display. How that changes over time is going to be interesting to keep track of. 

It turns out that I have a Soundcloud account that I keep forgetting about. That's where I've put three minutes of audio that I played with and compressed down from about ten minutes of source material. The opening two calls are pretty much as they sound in the installation, with some quiet time removed, but the remainder of the audio has been layered with one really time-stretched call running underneath it. And it's also interesting to know that the little speakers in a phone are completely incapable of reproducing these low frequencies, so listen with headphones or non-device speakers if you're interested in hearing them.

The rest of the exhibit gives some of the story of this particular specimen and of whales in general, including a corner dedicated to their evolution. While some of the biology display was disappointing – it would have been nice to see a life-sized model of the heart that they were able to preserve, rather than a life-sized photo next to a Generously Provided By smart car – elements like the giant bucket of blood were cleverly done.

The displays themselves are quite kid-friendly, but there's no clear flow to the space and few obvious walkways in the angular basement of the crystal. March Break should be an interesting time to visit, especially for anyone who isn't channeling the calm and majesty of the deep ocean.

This is going to be a very popular place.


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