This series of zoo photographs was begun a few years ago. I had taken my kids to the Anchorage Zoo, and made the photograph of the two-humped camel. About the same time I was re-familiarizing myself with one of my favorite books of photography, Garry Winogrand’s The Animals.
This classic book was made in 1969 at the Bronx Zoo and Aquarium. I had often admired its small format, small number of precise photographs, and Winogrand’s wry eye at work.
After photographing the camel, I decided I’d like to take my own look at zoos today. I’ve had support from the Rasmuson Foundation, and from UAF during a spring sabbatical, to finish this project and to show it here.
Over the four years since I started, I’ve traveled to a number of zoos. I’ve visited them in Anchorage, Seattle, Portland, Phoenix, Atlanta, Jackson, Montgomery, Birmingham, Tucson, Washington DC, and Chicago.
When I started I thought I'd make humorous pictures of the people and animals interacting (I’ve often made humorous photos in my career.) I thought the change in barriers now (there is a lot more plexiglass than in Winogrand’s time) with people and animals able to get within inches of each other thanks to these invisible “bars”) would lead to great juxtapositions of human and non-human critters. I definitely found the latter, but not much of the former.
I’ve come away from zoos with a great feeling of sadness for the animals. Especially the apes, who seem to harbor the raw deal they are getting in their very sad eyes. While there is a variety of habitat provided to the animals in the different zoos, none seem to give them what they might have in the now mythical “wild.” Are they better off for not being hunted, or having other stresses as modern civilization takes over their territories? Are they better off for being protected and fed? Or is their very wild spirit usurped by the conditions in which they are kept? I don’t know the answer, but I do know it’s hard to spend time really looking at them, and photographing them, and come away happy with what zoos offer to both the animals, and to the humans there to see them.
©2020 Charles Mason, All RIghts Reserved