A unique insight - Fut Jensen's story

Fut Jensen (1896 - 1983 ) photo from Antarctica 1948/49"The Kosmos Assignment" tells the story of commercial whaling through the images of a Norwegian whaling expedition to the Antarctic in 1948/49. This programme is not intended to be a definitive history of commercial whaling, but rather a unique insight into commercial whaling at a time when Norwegian whaling had reached its peak efficiency and the writing which heralded the end of commercial whaling was already on the wall. The politicians and shipowners of the whaling nations may have understood this, but for the crew of Kosmos III, this was just another whaling season in the Southern Ocean. Had Fut Jensen not been with them, their story would probably never have been told.

This rare film footage has remained unseen by the general public for fifty years. It was shot by Rasmus Carl Christian Eskild Jensen(1)  - a Danish photographer known to his friends as "Fut" - who was engaged, through a journalist friend and colleague, Hakon Mielche, by Anders Jahre, a Norwegian shipowner, to document the 1948/49 voyage of the Kosmos fleet. When Jahre saw the finished material, he decided that it would never see the light of day. Why he did so remains a matter of speculation - maybe Jahre could see, that with the formation in of the IWC(2) , commercial whaling's days - and with it the years of profitability for his whaling fleet, were numbered.

So the film footage which was delivered to the shipowner remained under lock and key - or maybe it was destroyed. Anders Jahre continued to build a sizeable fortune with his whaling fleet for many years, and with the eventual demise of commercial whaling, he turned his maritime business skills to other areas, consolidating a wealth which eventually outlived him. His film was never seen again, and repeated efforts to find it have failed.

Fut Jensen had received from Mielche - perhaps in error - several reels of tungsten light balanced colour negative film, which were not the specified film for the job. Mielche was told by Jahre to re-order the correct film - presumably daylight film - and to dispose of the tungsten film or use it for something else. Fut and Mielche agreed to split the tungsten film stock between them. What Anders Jahre never knew, was that Fut Jensen took this film stock with him to the Antarctic, and duplicated much of his work for the shipowner. On his return a short film was edited, to which the soundtrack was either never made or has subsequently disappeared. This film was never released.

Hakon MielcheFut had got the Kosmos assignment through Hakon Mielche, with whom Fut had undertaken previous jobs. Fut did the filming, Hakon handled the money. As the entrepreneur in this working relationship, Mielche wove a web of film rights and publishing deals for himself, using Fut's talents as a photographer, and possibly benefitting from Fut's naivety in business matters. An examination of Fut's private papers from this period reveal a series of personal and professional disagreements which eventually led to them going their separate ways. Their friendship must have prevailed in some way though, for records reveal that Fut shared address with Mielche for a period. 

Between 1949 and 1981, Fut Jensen had borrowed over kr. 180,000 from a lifelong friend - Ib Rømer Jørgensen - a debt which Fut paid by giving Ib Rømer all the rights to the film and original footage of the 1948/49 Kosmos voyage - the footage which was sold to Anders Jahre, but which since has disappeared. Fut Jensen did not live to see the end of commercial whaling, he died in 1983.
Fut's personal effects, including Fut's private film footage and papers from the Kosmos III voyage, were inherited by Ib Rømer Jørgensen. Hakon Mielche died soon afterwards.

Fut Jensen's film footage from the 1948/49 Kosmos voyage is unique - 16mm colour, much of which is of unusual technical quality, showing the key moments of a voyage of several months, from the mustering of the crew in Sandefjord, Norway, their journey to the South Polar Sea, the work of the whalers onboard the harpoon vessels and factory ship of the Kosmos fleet, and their journey home. In this footage, we see great whales of a size which is rarely - if ever - seen today. We experience the industrial efficiency with which the Norwegians, one of the periods foremost whaling nations, played a major part in decimating the various populations of great whales around Antarctica. Looking back, far before the years of "Save the whale", we see the commercial activities which preceded, and ultimately led to the conservation and protection which the great whales enjoy today.

Fut Jensen's camera -
Fut Jensen used a Zeiss Ikon Movikon 16 film camera to shoot his footage on Kosmos III - this camera dated from the 1930's and was powered by clockwork - an obvious advantage for Antarctic photographers in the days long before the advent of reliable portable batteries. Whether this was his only motion picture camera is not known, there are references in letters from Hakon Mielche to Fut's Bolex camera - which probably would have been a Bolex H16 of similar vintage.
Fut Jensen's Zeiss Ikon Movikon 16
We know that Fut Jensen wrote to Anders Jahre just before he travelled to Norway to meet Kosmos III, asking what voltage the main power on board was. This could be a reference to his need for power for darkroom equipment. Later on Fut wrote that Kosmos III's hospital had a fully equipped darkroom for the X-ray equipment, which he was allowed to use to develop his film. So our clues to the identity of his camera are minimal. We know from his reel log, that he shot 100' rolls of 16mm film.It seems unlikely that Fut recorded any sound onboard Kosmos III, there is no record of him taking recording equipment (which was both expensive and cumbersome in 1948) and his remaining film, though apparently edited in logical sequences, does not have a soundtrack - maybe there was a post-synced soundtrack, but if there was, it has never been found. 

Who was Fut Jensen? For more details, click HERE

Footnotes to this page
1. Rasmus Carl Christian Eskild Jensen (Fut), b.14th September 1896, Fredriksberg Danmark, d. 11th January 1983, Copenhagen
2. The first International Convention on the Regulation of Whaling was signed in Washington on 2nd December 1946, Norway was not present at this first meeting, but was amongst the 13 nations who ratified the Convention declaration in November & December 1948 - whilst the Kosmos fleet with Fut Jensen on board was whaling of Antarctica. One could postulate that Anders Jahre had commissioned Fut's film in early September 1948, possibly before Norway's decision to ratify the IWC convention and join the IWC was made public. By the time Fut Jensen returned from Antarctica and delivered his film, Anders Jahre was facing a new political landscape - one in which publicity concerning Norwegian commercial whaling was not the economic advantage of shipowners like Jahre?
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