Behind Glass: A Poignant Look at Captive Primates

Photographer Anne Berry has an innate connection to animals. She attributes this to growing up with dogs and riding horses when she was young. For the past few years, it’s been primates that have captured her attention. While accompanying her husband on a business trip to Europe, Berry decided to venture out and explore some of the local zoos. What resulted is “Behind Glass,” a series of intimate portraits of primates in their enclosures.

“I started noticing that humans are attracted to primates because they’re so genetically close to us,” she says. “Their expressions and everything, it’s so similar. I sought out small monkey houses where I could engage with the primates. In America the zoos are so big that there are usually a bunch of people around, and it’s kind of hectic. If I went during the week to these zoos in small towns, I’d be the only person there.”

As Berry traveled through Europe with her husband, she would take special trips to small zoos where she could have a quiet and deliberate interaction with the primates living there. Using her digital camera with a vintage lens, she would patiently sit with the primates, taking soft, natural-light portraits of them through the glass. Berry says that she wanted the photographs to have a more nostalgic look, believing this would help people connect with their primate counterparts.

She says that while sometimes people misunderstand the primate’s expressions, she hopes that their emotional response to the photographs will still spur them to action.

“People anthropomorphize them and say, ‘Oh, he looks so sad!’ But sometimes when a monkey has his mouth turned down, they are probably not sad,” she says. “They just can’t smile like we can. They’re probably feeling more curious than sad. I do want people to think about what we are doing to their habitats. I want them to look at each species and feel some kind of kinship with it.”

Berry says that people don’t always respond positively to her work, which is often because of their disdain for zoos. “People say, ‘Oh, I hate this, how can you go to a zoo?’ But in my mind, if they really do hate zoos, what are they doing about it? Because most of those animals don’t even have a natural habitat where they’re not stressed by other factors. The zoos are sort of the last refuge for them. The alternative is to let them all go extinct, and then we’ll be next. I’d like the work to make people want to do things—like not use palm oil—to help preserve the habitats of these animals.”

When asked about her favorite primate, Berry says she’s most drawn to bonobos. “They are closely related to chimpanzees, but they’re just a little more delicate, and their temperaments are very sweet.”

View more of Anne Berry’s work on her website.

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