The Collective Picture

Vintage Photography Redefined

admin On February - 6 - 2010

Humanity has always been intrigued by the strange and exotic, a trip into Joseph Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’ showcases this fascination with the unexplored ‘savage’ lands that fueled the colonial era. Exhibits displaying individuals from indigenous cultures, such as the ‘Negro Village’ at the 1878 Paris World fair, highlights this history of gawking at the proverbial ‘other’. It is this showcasing of the ‘other’ that has, in the past, left me unsettled by displays of animals and the zoo experience. As much as I relish the ability to see animals that would otherwise be unknown to me I am quick to feel unnerved by concerns over quality of life.

Many zoos have faced criticism regarding this, such as the Calgary zoo, which is having its practices reviewed because of these concerns. Despite these problems zoos, at least the well-managed ones that emphasize research and advocacy, play an important role in furthering our understanding of and ultimate ability to preserve animal populations. As habitat loss, poaching and pollution wage winning battles of destruction on animal populations our best efforts to preserve a species often relies on the use of protective custody. With the world giant panda population at an estimated 1,600 U.S. born pandas Mei Lan and Tai Shan have left their homes at zoos in America to assist in China’s breeding programs.

Smithsonian+National+Zoo+Celebrates+4th+Birthday+ENm9N2JFb6Hl 300x204 Zoo Me: DNA and Captivityanimals

Washington Zoo’s Farewell Cake for Panda Tai Shan

Aside from creating globe trotting animals to ward off extinction zoos are also collecting and preserving DNA. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo are preserving the genetic material of a growing number of species, creating what has been dubbed the ‘frozen zoo.’ This term brings to mind some sci-fi B flick that centers on an apocalyptic future where children view animals as stored test tube offspring. But the reality is far less mad scientist, using DNA to clone endangered animals that are then ‘mothered’ by a genetically similar surrogate, but this approach has its limitations. The potential that this frozen zoo has to restock the earth’s animal populations rests on the challenge of creating and maintaining natural spaces for these species to have their second chance. Even scientists involved in this project are quick to acknowledge that despite the potential that this work creates it does not outweigh the importance of preventative measures, such as preserving habitat. So as scientists work on collecting and preserving banks of DNA, the rest of us must ready for a future, ideally building a world where animals like the giant panda do not need to rely on captivity and surrogacy for their survival.

central park feeding hippo Zoo Me: DNA and CaptivityanimalsCentral Park – feeding hippo. George Grantham Bain Collection (Library of Congress). No date recorded on caption card.

zoo feeding Zoo Me: DNA and Captivityanimals

Zoo feeding. Paul Martin (1864-1944)_Collection of National Media Museum

1890 baby elephant zoo 1024x1010 Zoo Me: DNA and Captivityanimals

1890. Baby elephant at the zoo. Collection of National Media Museum/Kodak Museum

1899 children bears zoo 1024x799 Zoo Me: DNA and Captivityanimals

1899 ca. Group of public school children looking at bears in the National Zoo, Washington, D.C. Frances Benjamin Johnston Collection Library of Congress

1900 zookeeper feeding bear smoking 1024x822 Zoo Me: DNA and Captivityanimals1900. A zookeeper smokes a pipe while feeding the bears. Lincoln Park Zoo.Part of the Illinois Urban Landscapes Project:

1900 zebra lincoln park zoo 1024x816 Zoo Me: DNA and Captivityanimals

1900. Zebra (probably Grant’s) Lincoln Park Zoo with man in bowler hat and suit feeding it or looking through cage. Brick building behind with arched doorways. Part of the Illinois Urban Landscapes Project:

c1901 bear pit lincoln park chicago zoo Zoo Me: DNA and Captivityanimals

c1901. The Bear pit, Lincoln Park, Chicago. Detroit Publishing Co. Library of Congress.

1909 1923 man feeds deer zoo Zoo Me: DNA and CaptivityanimalsBetween 1909 and 1923. Deer at the zoo, National Photo Company Collection (Library of Congress) taronga zoo baby elephant Zoo Me: DNA and Captivityanimals

1925 ca. Baby elephant at Taronga Zoo. by Sam Hood. State Library of New South Wales

1925 better ole club orchestra zoo Zoo Me: DNA and Captivityanimals

1925 Better Ole Club Orchestra at Zoo. National Photo Company Collection (Library of Congress)

1961 amsterdam zoo caretaker hippo 981x1024 Zoo Me: DNA and Captivityanimals

28 september 1961. Caretaker Jan van Keulen cleans the mouth of a hippopotamus. Nationaal Archief:

Further Reading:

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