It's mostly easy to brush aside sentiments about animals because they're just that: animals. Most comments about the previous post on Pieter Hugo's Hyena Men were centered more on the novelty of wild animals as pets and not so much on the treatment of the hyenas and baboons. Will it be the same for this post? Photographer James Mollison doesn't make it easy in his series "James & Other Apes" as his subjects are a little bit more human like us.
James Mollison is a portrait photographer now working for Fabrica, Benetton Group's cultural research center. The photographer has had great success in his photographic stories with "The Memory of Pablo Escobar", a collection of images about the notorious Colombian drug lord, and "Where Children Sleep", a fascinating portrait of children from different cultures and their bedrooms. His first step into the spotlight is probably his project, "James & Other Apes", a collection of close-up portraits of man's closest cousins and the subject of this blog post.
James & Other Apes came about when Mollison was watching a nature documentary and saw the differences (or rather similarities) between a human's face and that of an ape. In order to get an objective comparison, he chose to do the portraits in a passport-type head-on fashion. The results are eerily impressive (or impressively eerie).
The series includes 50 tight portraits of different apes, however the subjects in the project weren't chosen arbitrarily. Instead, Mollison traveled to different animal sanctuaries in Congo, Cameroon, Indonesia and the USA in order to take the portraits of gorillas, chimpanzees, orangutans and bonobos, all victims of illegal poaching.
The project took him four years to complete and includes a short biography of each of his named subjects.
What makes these portraits so hard to look at yet captivating at the same time? Mollison describes how he began to see different personalities in the faces of his animal subjects; just by looking at their faces, you could probably tell which ones are grumpy, which ones are jumpy, and so forth. Indeed, when it comes to apes, there is a gray area between man and animal, and this is probably what makes it hard to look at these faces without empathizing with these subjects.
There are probably more similarities than differences between humans and great apes and while it's sometimes funny to laugh at their antics or compare your friend to an ape, these pictures forces you to do the opposite and ask yourself, "What makes us human?"
If you truly want to see how much these genetic cousins can look like humans like us, check out James Mollison's website here. The entire series is available in the book James Mollison: James & Other Apes. The photographer's other books are also worthy of note: Hunger (English and Italian Edition) and James Mollison: Where Children Sleep.