Monday, August 18, 2008
I always get a little nervous when I look at a picture of any non-human primate looking directly into the lens. Maybe it’s not nervousness per se, but discomfort really..
For instance, pictures like these * – What do they mean to you? Me, I see animals that are almost human, but not nearly. And that’s what un-nerves me.
Their eyes, alive and aflame with a curiosity that is raw and intense. Almost dangerous. Of the sort that will not cause them to hesitate before plucking the photographer’s eye out, or lashing a sharp nail across her cheek in order to find a satisfying answer to some question that burns within that cranium (‘why doesn’t she respond to my courting dance?’ / ‘what an ugly chimp; why, no facial hair at all, ugh!’), a variant of which we humans have been using over the last 200,000 years since we diverged from our sister lineage, the chimps. Using it to discover fire, make tools and weapons that could pierce through raw hide, to grow food, conquer, and colonize. And ultimately, use it to take the planet and everything in it down with us in another 70 years or so.
But most of all, I think photographs of this sort defy a long-cultivated and (till a while ago), almost-established stereotype in my mind, of the ‘un-intelligent animal’. No doubt this has in part, to do with my Catholic upbringing and the traditional Christian view of the hierarchy of life that bestows upon Man, the exclusive status of The Intelligent Being.
With the result that now, looking at those piercing, bulging green eyes burning with intelligence and curiosity, makes me nervous, I admit.
* If you can get your hands on the July 2008 issue of the National Geographic, check out this one picture shot in Japan, of a bunch of macaques huddled together for warmth. That one beats all of these. I tried to find it online, but couldn't.