During a work trip to Berlin, Pawel Bogumil decided to visit the German capital’s zoo. It was there he noticed Ivo, a curious male gorilla who seemed to have little interest in the female gorillas with whom he shares a home. Instead, Ivo appeared more interested in the human visitors, especially blonds. Bogumil was struck by Ivo’s reactions.
“What was unexpected was I saw emotion of happiness or triumph,” Bogumil said. “I wasn’t expecting to see emotions.”
It inspired him to work on a three-year project that focused on primates, mostly gorillas, orangutans, and chimpanzees that were housed in zoos around Europe (Bogumil’s travels were predicated on his work trips from his home in Poland).
“From my perspective I can say they have distinct personalities just like people,” he added.
The black-and-white photographs are all taken from behind glass. Through production work, Bogumil creates black or white backgrounds to create a consistent look that removes the zoo environments. He said he isn’t trying to dupe anyone by removing clues about where the images are being photographed, but the point of the work is about the emotions of the animals, not the zoos. He calls the work “InHuman,” which he said plays with the relationship between the primates and human beings.
“I was trying to anthropomorphize a lot of those pictures to see the human aspects of them,” he said. “I’ve never had an opportunity to see primates living free; I was only observing primates inside zoo gardens.”
Apart from working from behind glass and the difficulties that created when making the photographs, Bogumil said working during spring and summer was complicated because of the amount of visitors to the zoos. Working in winter was easier but also limited the amount of light he was able to use.
Although it seems many of Bogumil’s subjects are interacting with him, he said it’s really not the case and that he simply waited to capture the poses.
Once the project was done, he took it to a zoo in Germany and showed it to a gorilla.
“One female sat in front of me separated by the glass, and it was like a face-to-face conversation distance between us, and I put my photos to the glass, and I saw in her eyes she was analyzing the pictures,” he said. “And when I showed her the last picture, she stood up and went off to do what she was doing before. From my point of view I’m happy to receive acceptance from my models.”