Photographer Jill Greenberg captures the essence of primativity in our simian cousins
It all started in the fall of 2001, when accomplished studio photographer Jill Greenberg
was shooting an advertisement for Target. A White-headed Capuchin
monkey that was in the background of a child's party scene appearing in the ad enchanted Greenberg.
"I'd never really come in close contact with a monkey before," remembers Greenberg, "so I decided to do a portrait of her." This chance meeting and photo shoot was all Greenberg needed to catch monkey fever. "When I saw how [the capuchin portrait] looked, I just thought it was great, and I decided I was going to do a bunch of monkey portraits."
Greenberg took hundreds of monkey and ape photos over the next several years. She would hire monkeys and apes (usually primate actors who had some on-screen experience) and their handlers to sit for shoots in her Los Angeles studio. Though Greenberg was well-known for her studio portraits of celebrities, monkeys and apes posed a new challenge. "The monkeys and the apes aren't always that agreeable to being photographed," she says, adding that sometimes it's impossible to get her subjects to be still. "You just sort of have to shoot a fair amount of film and just see what you get."
What Greenberg gets are photos that are provocative without seeming exploitative. She captures expressions on her primate subjects' faces that evoke natural human emotions. And she captures them almost by accident. "I got a picture of this white capuchin wincing because he didn't like being photographed," Greenberg says about "Wince."
"I think I only shot half a roll of film, but I ended up getting something really cool."
Her work starkly contrasts that of wildlife photographers, who hide for hours to get one primate shot. "I am just the antithesis of what they do. I have conceptual reasons for wanting things to look a little unnatural."
Even after photographing full grown orangutans and menacing mandrills, Greenberg says she's never felt endangered by her photographic quarry. Both of her mandrill photo shoots (in which the imposing monkeys were chained around the waist to prevent mishaps) were done while she was pregnant. "I wasn't scared," she says.
Greenberg's simian portraits are collected in her book "Monkey Portraits
," which comes out in soft cover October 12, and in several studio exhibits. Her monkey portraits are showing through November 25 at the National Academies' Keck Center
in Washington, D.C. and from January 1- April 5, 2008 at the National Academy of Sciences headquarters. Greenberg's most recent series, "Ursine," a collection of bear portraits, and "End Times," her series of crying children photos, will be on display at the New York City's ClampArt Gallery
in October and November.
for a slideshow.
Photos by Jill Greenberg. Courtesy of ClampArt Gallery, New York
Links within this article:
Jill Greenberg Studio
B. Grant, "Do chimps have culture?" The Scientist
, August 2007.
Exhibition at National Academies of Science
Exhibition at Clampart Gallery