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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
James and Other Apes is the latest book of photography from notable Benetton affiliate James Mollison. It contains 50 portraits (with short bios) of chimps, gorillas, bonobos, and orangutans taken in sanctuaries in Africa and Asia, as well as a heartfelt foreword from scientist and author Jane Goodall (My Life with the Chimpanzees). This book is an important piece of art for several reasons. The straight-on "mug shot" style of the photographs themselves forces the reader to look only into the faces and eyes of these apes, as opposed to our usual zoo or Discovery Channel viewing, where we see them from a distance doing whatever cute "apelike" things we are used to. It takes them out of the usual context and forces us to look at them as individuals, as faces with names.
The faces are extraordinarily expressive, and the eyes undeniably contain genuine feeling and thought. In the back of the book there is an index of each ape by name, with a short biography that includes age, circumstances of acquisition, and mental and physical condition, both upon arrival at the sanctuary and at the time of photographing. Most of these apes witnessed the slaughter of their mothers at a very young age. Some were put on sale next to their mother's meat in marketplaces. Some were kept as pets and treated well until they grew too big and strong for their owners. Some arrived at the sanctuary malnourished, mutilated, or exhibiting signs of post-traumatic stress syndrome. Some have permanent mental disorders. Some have cerebral palsy, meningitis, or parasitic diseases. Almost all of them needed surrogate mothers and varying amounts of time to assimilate themselves into the group, but almost all have flourished and are eventually able to be released back into the wild.
Continuing development (read: destruction of habitats) in the Congo and other places makes it easy for poachers to get into the forests to kill the older apes for food (considered a delicacy) or capture them for profit. By humanizing these animals, this book reinforces how wrong it is to treat them in a way that damages and endangers the entire species. The fact is that we share 99 percent of our DNA with chimps. To witlessly cause the extinction of the species should give us considerable pause, should it not? Take a moment to educate yourself with this book. It is a remarkable lesson in tolerance and compassion. Elizabeth McMillan