Bob Hunter plants a mind bomb

By Admin posted on July 5, 2016 in News, Recent

This Sunday marks International Bio Diversity Day and it got me to thinking about a small group of friends and ecological trailblazers from Vancouver, who defined the modern environmental movement of the 70’s that would go on to become globally recognised organisation, Greenpeace International.

I tuned into their epic story watching the inspirational documentary ‘How To Change The World’, and found I was more fascinated by the story of the group’s informal leader, Canadian journalist and environmentalist, the late Robert (Bob) Hunter. He played a central role in promoting and drawing attention to early activist stunts that captured mass media attention and triggered a global response to environmental issues around the world.

It was Hunter’s carefully orchestrated image of a protestor on a tiny inflatable rescue boat charging audaciously towards a huge Russian whaling ship, that got me thinking about the undeniable power of expressing a visual idea. Armed only with cameras and the faith in the power of images, these shots of protestors putting themselves in-between a ship’s harpoon and a pod of whales are basically responsible for the birth of the rainbow warriors, as we know them.

At the time, even a skilled journalist like Hunter was aware of the limitations of words in contrast to the instinctual quality of images and their immediate ability to spark change or sway opinion – whether campaigning for a cause or fighting for an idea. He knew he had to get these shots because people killing whales wasn’t really a new story, but people putting themselves at such risk to save whales against people killing them was.

In the documentary, which literally chronicles the birth of Greenpeace, it shows that early on Hunter realised to create change, you have to create a story; a visual cue that would catch the attention of millions of people in every corner of the globe. In this case he used a central image to sell the importance of activism and the power of actually doing something.

He quite famously coined the term ‘Mind Bomb’ to describe the way electronic media could be used as a tool for change. A ‘mind bomb’ (or what we now refer to as ‘going viral’) was a powerful image or video that could transform hearts and minds.

Fast forward to now, with our prolific use of social media and myriad of activist organisations all vying for media attention, both his famous image and the documentary itself highlight the lessons learnt by Greenpeace and the blueprint they represent for the power of an act to create change.

Holding true to the ideals that led to the activist group being formed, this ‘show don’t tell’ motto of visual storytelling and Hunter’s desire to capture and use a consciousness-changing image as a symbol, resounds even more strongly with me today. Put simply, he was instrumental in altering the way we look at the world and our place within it. Consequently he became an accidental adman whose image sold in the story of the planet’s struggle against human greed.

As creative storytellers, we sometimes have the tendency to let the technology, or its proceeding platform, dictate the message we are trying to get across. For some people, capturing a story using visual ideas means photographs. For others, it means film or video. But, if I’ve learnt anything from Hunter, it’s that a visual story should be able to stand-alone.

It doesn’t mean it should be complete – if an image tries to cram too much information in, the visual story come to a halt; pulled down by its own weight. However, if it fails to supply adequate information and context, the story becomes unfastened, inconsequential and pretty much empty. And, whilst visual stories often leave out a lot, I think this also becomes a part of their power, what makes them effective and creates a deeper engagement with the audience.

The best visual ideas are stories that can transport us – not only to another time or place but also to another person’s viewpoint and the ones that speak the loudest are visceral, compact and redolent.

In thoughtful review of Hunter’s life, then Greenpeace executive director of the time, Gerd Leipold, wrote: “He was brave and audacious, inspiring in his refusal to accept the limits of the practical or the probable.” To me, these words perfectly reflect that one powerful image Hunter made sure the world would see.

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