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  • February 19, 2016

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.

Picture of a gorilla behind glass
Boma, 2014, Krefeld

“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.”

Picture of a primate behind glass
Mandrill, 2012, Wuppertal

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.

Picture of a silhouette of a monkey in a zoo enclosure
Shadow, 2012, Wuppertal

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.

Picture of an orangutan in a zoo enclosure
Bruno, 2012, Munich

“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.”

Picture of a baboon gazing through glass
Baboon, 2010, Moscow

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.”

Picture of a macaque in a zoo enclosure
Macaque, 2011, Antwerp

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.

There are 10 Comments. Add Yours.

  1. Kamran Sikandar
    March 19, 2016

    The second picture (Boma, 2014) is the most captivating. The soulful expression on his face and the depth in eyes had me looking at him for a long time wondering what was going through his mind.

  2. Silas S
    February 29, 2016

    Animals are born free. They might lose their privacy & freedom when humans claim they were their ancestors. The artists of the distant future would use discernment and laugh at such primitive reasoning emanating from speculative biology with gaps in understanding.

  3. equillydire
    February 26, 2016

    I think Kevin meant manifest. Don’t know about pictures.

  4. George O Jackson Jr
    February 23, 2016

    THANK you for this magnificent reminder!

  5. Kevin Tully
    February 23, 2016

    The empathetic quality of Anne’s photographs causes them to transcend zoos and personal prejudices. They are true art and the power of good art is manifold. It compels and opens and ignites and emotes and raises consciousness. It is not the job of the artist to define or to prescribe the actions or emotions of the viewer. An artist makes the world vibrate and resonate. The viewer then rings like a bell or not.

  6. Silas S
    February 22, 2016

    Even 2% difference in DNA wouldn’t make these creatures humans, let alone their ancestors. There is a difference between biology and speculative biology.

    The biggest mistake scientists and philosophers make is trying to answer something conclusively without understanding the limitations of science or scientific methodology to interpret ‘origin’.

  7. Pablo
    February 20, 2016
  8. Jennifer Cessna
    February 20, 2016

    Gorgeous work! Very thought provoking and sweet .

  9. Emily Booth
    February 19, 2016

    The question is, Mr. Tearington, what are you doing for wildlife conservation?

  10. William Tearington
    February 19, 2016

    While I really love the pictures and the way you approach this topic, it makes me sad that we have such an amazing animals in little prisons. And They might be better off than in the wild because of human encouragement and abuse. I think the time you spent with them was probably stimulating and good for them. And you gave us important information about our relatives.

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