Statement of Intent
I believe zoos are good. Some believe zoos are bad. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle, but zoos often polarise opinions. An anti-zoo viewpoint portrays animals as captive prisoners, whilst pro-zoo viewpoints cite the importance of zoos' conservation and educational work. So how does a photographer approach zoo photography to illustrate the truth?
Reflecting on the visual message of animal activists (i.e. all zoos are bad), I was angered by how this 'truth' was portrayed. Common themes included the use of coarse black & white images, viewpoints to emphasise environments with bars/fencing and animals with pleading eyes or dejected postures; all designed to present a self-evident truth. This approach relies heavily on anthropomorphism - the belief that animals have human-like thoughts and feelings.
This panel explores the role of photographic technique and anthropomorphism and challenges the 'truth' presented by activists. I have photographed animals at good zoos with international reputations and active participation in conservation/breeding programmes, yet I have deliberately chosen subject matter and viewpoints that emphasise captivity and/or illustrate an 'emotional state'. In processing the images I have evoked the sense of a harsh environment through the use of a generally coarse monochrome presentation. I have selected specific viewpoints, composition and lighting to mimic the style of activists.
In summary, these pictures deliberately misrepresent reality, showing how the influence of the photographer can encourage viewers to transfer human emotions to other animals in an act of sympathy or misplaced empathy, in order to believe a 'truth'. I hope this panel will encourage viewers to challenge their assumptions about what they see and the meaning of truth in photography.