City Pulse

By Katie Calautti

When an established model-turned-fashion photographer (you may recognize him as one of the America’s Next Top Model judges) turns his lens on adorable newborn baby seals, then offers up personal group tours of the resulting photography exhibit, what’s a pop culture and art-savvy New Yorker to do?

If you’re anything like me, you rush to the gallery and get in line. Call me shallow.

Such was the case with Nigel Barker’s “A Sealed Fate,” which took place on the outskirts of the West Village, at the 401 Projects, and was open to the public Friday, July 25 through Sunday, July 27. Those lucky enough to arrive for one of the three daily tours hosted by Barker received an extra-special gift: an hour-long personal account of his very passionate cause.

Upon arrival, I waited in the front room, stacked with brochures, fact sheets, magnets and bumper stickers – all bearing images of wide-eyed baby harp seals, proclaiming in bright red type, “Protect Seals!” and “Boycott Canadian Seafood.” A few minutes spent perusing the materials unearthed the sad facts: the annual Canadian commercial seal hunt is the largest slaughter of marine mammals on the planet. More than 1 million baby seals have been brutally killed for their fur in the past four years – and it can be prevented.

As Barker walked us through his exhibit, he explained, “This is a story that has hope. There are options here – this isn’t just an unhappy ending.” A member of the Humane Society of the United States from a very young age, Barker said that he was approached by the organization to venture to Canada with their ProtectSeals team. He funded the entire trip himself – photographing the seals from birth to their untimely deaths (though he chose not to display any graphic imagery in the exhibit – calling it, instead, “A celebration of life.”) He also shot a documentary with his team, which was on display downstairs (the fluffy, white-padded banquettes juxtaposed with graphic images of 12-day-old seals being beaten to death was more than unnerving – it stirred something in me – and the rest of the audience – that was hard to ignore.)

The slaughter is caused by demand for the pelts of the baby seals (banned in the USA, but popular in other parts of the world) – used to make jackets, shoes and other clothing products. “The main reason I became involved is that I felt somewhat responsible as part of the fashion industry. If we can’t stop the supply, we can stop the demand,” noted Barker.

Barker ended his tour with a sobering image: the weapon used by Canadian fisherman to inhumanely bludgeon the mammals displayed prominently in his hand. He explained that banning the seal hunt requires alternate options for the local fishermen – and that it’s up to all of us to join with the Humane Society, pool our ideas and work together to impose new legislation.

I cannot lie: I arrived that day a giddy fan, and I left a crusader.

To learn more, visit www.protectseals.org and www.nigelbarker.tv.

You can also support the cause by purchasing a t-shirt designed by Barker at hsus.petfulfillment.com/productdetail.php?productid=1885.

Originally published July 2008
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