Greenpeace ship MY Esperanza and activists try to hinder the shooting of a minke whale by the Yushin Maru No.2 catcher ship. Photograph: Kate Davison/Greenpeace
Paul Watson and Sea Shepherd were favorite post topics for a while, but long time no see. With a major anniversary for Greenpeace, a look at other important images from their history seems a fitting tribute:
On the organisation’s 50th anniversary, former head of photography at Greenpeace International talks about the motives behind the creation of its picture desk
Vega boarded by French commandos in Moruroa, 1973. Photograph: Ann-Marie Horne
Fifty years ago, on 15 September 1971, a ship named the Greenpeace set out to confront and stop US nuclear weapons testing at Amchitka, one of the Aleutian Islands in south-west Alaska.
Two years later a small boat called the Vega, crewed by David McTaggart, Ann-Marie Horne, Mary Horne and Nigel Ingram sailed into the French nuclear test site area at Moruroa, French Polynesia in the southern Pacific Ocean. Photographers had been using their images for years to publicise situations around the world. But Greenpeace was a young organisation pioneering a new kind of activism: this was the moment they began to realise that capturing images of what they were doing and seeing would play a vital role in their work.
French commandos boarded the Vega and assaulted McTaggart and Ingram. However, in the confusion Ann-Marie Horne managed to get a few secret shots and was able to smuggle out the film of the incident by concealing it in her vagina. Her pictures showed the commandos armed with knives and truncheons. The pictures and story consequently made groundbreaking news, stoking the nuclear testing controversy.
After the Vega incident, Greenpeace made a pledge to photograph everything it did. It quickly learned how to harness the power and strength of emotive images bringing the world shocking scenes of seal pups clubbed by hunters and the inspirational images of activists standing up to whaling ships.
In the mid-1980s, the fast-growing organisation started to get serious about photography and needed a communications division to professionally handle the growing archive of negatives and film rushes that were being stored on office floors, plus a space dedicated to housing state-of-the-art image technology.
A film production area, picture desk and darkroom were established in London; there was equipment ranging from the early AP Leefax transmitters to cutting edge teletext machines for news updates. Film processing, printing, editing, captioning and cataloging was all done in-house by a small, dedicated team…
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