Review by Douglas Stockdale •
Anthropomorphism, that is giving human traits or attributes to animals, is probably most applicable when observing primates, those animals we seem to attribute some of their attributes to us an interesting twist on zoomorphism. All the more when the subjects are observed in confined quarters in which we suspect they have spent the entirely of their lives. The facial expressions and physical positioning captured by Ann Berry over the duration of this project concurrent with the short time she spent confronting each of her subjects at the various small zoos throughout the world is illustrated in her photobook Behind Glass.
Her portraits of subjects, incarcerated primates, who exhibit an anthropomorphic response, perhaps is a observed trait extended from their constant interaction with the unseen animal keepers. These animals appear to react to their surroundings, including another living animal, her, on the other side of an ever-present clear barrier. She captures mysterious interactions between her and her subjects of which we can only guess what her subjects may be contemplating. Berry states, but we cannot attest, that ‘it is clear they are posing for the camera and there exists a human-primate bond”. As Sage Sohier documents in her recent photobook Peaceable Kingdom, that there is visually evidence as to be what could be termed ‘bonding’ between man-kind and many domesticated species, including primates. So perhaps.
Jane Goodall’s inclusionary statement does provide a broad summation; “Berry’s photographs are poignant and deeply disturbing. Each one speaks to the loneliness, the depressed spirit and the despair of the incarcerated individual.” The alternatives to a zoological life are discussed in Nick Brandt’s recent photobook, The Day May Break that even when ‘wild’ animals are kept in relatively open habitat enclosures in Africa, the animals that are in captivity over a long enough duration cannot be released into the wild. Thus, we could say that Berry’s subjects are incarcerated with a life sentence.
We are left to wonder, what does the glass barrier represent to these primates? From the recorded interactions it’s apparent that these animals can observe events occurring beyond their reach, while we are unsure about their comprehension of what this clear barrier before them is. Unlike the other solid walls surrounding them, this one seems different. There are other things that they can observe moving about, a constant changing series of animals similar to those who provide their food. It is unknown to the reader as to what their experience is inside these small zoos and structures; apparently these animals adapt in some degree to their surroundings. Perhaps as in the wild, these animals focus on living for just the day.
In one instance, Berry captures a poignant moment inside an enclosure that appears to include a door with her subject positioned with an outreaching hand towards the location of the door handle. As if to signify that the primate named Peter, a Crested Black Macaque, wants you to open the door or is in the act of trying to escape if only he could magically extend beyond this clear and impenetrable barrier. An implied composition and how we read into this possible narrative as to the nature of its entrapment and desire for an alternative existence, true or otherwise. Is this just our fantasy or is it Peter’s as well?
In another photograph it is ambiguous as to who or what is contained by the semi-clear window as it appears that the two small animals in the foreground are interacting with the primate beyond. The humidity causing the weeping of the glass in-between appears to represent the potential sadness of all three of her subjects.
As one of her photographs informs, the animal’s existence in their confines is multi-generational, being born and whose entire existence has been confined, thus without any memory of what the ‘wild’ might be. These animals only know this confined and narrow existence, while it is our collective memory of the ‘wild’ that is the surrogate of which these animals have no possible understanding.
Berry’s photographs tug at our heart strings and elicits our empathy to all of those animals and individuals who are caged and incarcerated. This book constitutes a call to action for this planet and everything that lives on it, mankind, animals, insects and plants. A bio-diverse world due to issues manifest by mankind that is placing what is living on it now at peril and great risk.
For those animals, including many whose species is now on the edge of extinction, it is probably cause to think about what it might take to keep this species intact until they can be safely re-introduced back into the wild. A very poignant as well as troubling narrative.
Douglas Stockdale is the Senior Editor (& founder) PhotoBook Journal and a visual artist. I also have to state that I was granted a preview of Berry’s artistic body of work for this book when she attended one of book development workshops in 2021.
Behind Glass, Anne Berry
Photographer: Anne Berry, born and resides in Atlanta, GA
Publisher: Shock Design Books, Atlanta, GA, copyright 2021
Essays: Jerry Cullum, Jo Setchell and a statement by Jane Goodall, PhD.
Hard covers, embossed suede with tip-in print, front and back, Smyth sewn, Index of plates, duotone printed with spot varnish in China, ISBN-13 978-0-9963189-5-2 and US Library of Congress Number: 2021903640
Photobook Designer: Laurie Shock
Articles & photographs published on PhotoBook Journal may not be reproduced without the permission of the PhotoBook Journal staff and the photographer(s).