The Photographer and the Zoo: A Memoir of Mediated Encounters
What kinds of encounters are possible in places entirely structured according to anthropocentric norms and with only minimal regard for the interests of other creatures? The zoo, an institution centered on the human gaze and the satisfaction of human consumptive desires, pushes this question to its extreme, given that the nonhuman creatures involved have been actively transported to and imprisoned in this ostensibly ‘animal-centered’ but in fact violently anthropocentric place. Zoo creatures are, first and foremost, living testimony to the power of humans to remove them from their habitats and put them into places where they do not belong and do not want to be. In this personal essay, the author reflects on his long friendship and collaboration with German photographer Britta Jaschinski, whose photography captures captive animals from zoos around the world, conveying a strong sense of the animals’ out-of-place-ness and the limiting artificiality of their surroundings and living conditions. Her photos point to the ways in which the zoo, rather than being a place that uniquely allows for encounters between human and nonhuman creatures, actually serves as a monument to the impossibility of such encounters—it is a strikingly non-reciprocal, and monological place that forcefully reinscribes, and itself performs, the supposed divide that separates humans from other species.
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