97% Human, primates feature in exhibition Down Under

Posted on February 22, 2011



A drill at the zoo



These beautiful primate portraits are part of a project called 97% Human, which were taken at Melbourne Zoo by photographer Arthur Xanthopoulos. He wanted to bring out the human side to these animals (anthropomorphism).

Arthur was originally inspired by primate documentaries, including BBC productions narrated by Sir David Attenborough, where the theme was the common ancestry of humans and other primates. He decided to base his photographic concept on the human characteristics of apes (although drills and baboons are monkeys, not apes).

Melbourne Zoo is home a total of 320 animal species including six orangutans, eight gorillas and many other primate species. It’s Australia’s oldest zoo and opened in 1892. During that time, it has launched international campaigns to save the endangered orangutans of Borneo and the gorillas threatened in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Arthur lives  close to Melbourne Zoo and was able to forge good contacts with the staff who gave him prime access to the unusually open primate enclosures. He prefers to shoot on days where the sky is overcast and the light is even enough to allow him to bring out the features of the primates.

“These primates have the ability to recognise I have a camera and I’m taking photos of them,” said Arthur.

“They change their behaviour in response to my presence just like a human model would do. There’s a personal interaction between myself and the apes which I convey through the pictures. I hope to let their unique personalities shine through so people can feel this for themselves, particularly through eye contact- which is a powerful way of communicating for both humans and apes.”

He added: “I’m holding up a mirror to people in the way they see themselves. I want them to question who we are as humans and what we want to represent. When people look at the images I’ve created I hope they will see their own reflection and this will make them think how much more we have in common with primates than the difference in our bodies might suggest. I see my work as a way to create a degree of awareness in people’s minds and help them to see these animals in a different way.”