Dept of Ideas: Blurring the Boundaries Between Human and Ape

By David Schonauer   Thursday July 9, 2015

Rarely has a trip to the zoo yielded such thought-provoking pictures.

Polish photographer Pawel Bogumi spent a year and a half visiting zoos across Europe to create his series “inHuman.” His lovely, profound portraits of primates question the boundaries mankind has established to separate itself from animals.

“Each creature—except man—we call animal. We describe humans as living creatures, distinguished by the highest degree of development of the psyche and social life, while the rest fall into this catch-all categorization. Generally accepted, these boundaries are not contractual, but determined, and eliminate any space for beings caught between these two terms.,” writes Bogumi of the project, a finalist in the LensCulture  Earth15 Awards.

Bogumi’s images create that space. In the faces of the species he photographed, we can sense a quality of emotional life—something akin to what humans arrogantly call “humanity.” Perhaps another word is needed, a word that can be applied to other animals on our planet.

Most of the photographs were shot during winter seasons, a time of low attendance at the zoos Bogumi went to. “I was another anonymous visitor with the camera,” he told PPD in a recent email. At first, he was not pleased with his pictures. “Only a longer observation of individual characters allowed me to perceive various grimaces, gestures and emotions,” he said.

The turning point came when he met a zookeepers working with primates in Warsaw. “They pointed me in the right direction,” says Bogumi. “It was then that I was able to create the project in its final form.”

He shot with a full-frame digital camera using two different lens — a 24-70mm f2.8 lens and a 70-200mm f2.8 zoom.  “A key selection factor was the brightness of the lens, since most of the spaces I was shooting in were very poorly lit and the use of artificial light or flash was strictly prohibited,” Bogumi says.

The black backgrounds in the images were created in post-production. “I did this mainly to help viewers instantly make contact with the individual characters of my work pictures,” Bogumi says. “The zoo as a place was not important for me.”

“Almost two years of observing primates forced me to rebuild my opinions [about the primates],”  Bogumi writes. “We should not treat them as mere animals, but perhaps think of them as self-aware, non-human persons full of emotions, despite the limitations of beastly instinct and reaction patterns.”


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