SOURCE PHOTO: 01 / MAR / 2012
PHOTOGRAPHS OF ANIMALS
Posted by Richard West
We went to visit London Zoo Library. The library itself is a galleried room decorated with small animal sculptures and lined with books and journals relating to zoology. Ann Sylph, the helpful librarian, explained that the photographic collection relates mostly to animals that have been part of the collection of the Zoological Society of London (who also run Whipsnade Zoo) rather than animals ‘in the wild’.
John Edwards, who obviously has a deep knowledge of the Zoo's archive, and who also brought along a number of photographs from his own collection to show us, explained the almost accidental way in which the Zoo's photographic archive had come together. Each story he told us (and I don't think I have ever met anyone who spoke in such well-formed sentences) related zoo animals to the humans they co-existed with.
All this is in contrast to the contemporary conventions of ‘wildlife photography’ as exemplified by popular TV documentaries and the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition (which we reviewed in 2007 and looks the same every year). Like the difference between a film like Grizzly Man and a film such as March of the Penguins or as in the exhibition The Photographed Animal: Useful, Cute and Collected, the relationship between animals and humans is a more revealing subject than that of animals in a supposed state of nature. The Zoological Society's implicit acknowledgement of this connection may also explain why one of the important parts of their collection, and a recurring subject in this film, is animal extinction.