Monday, August 29, 2005

Face to face

With a bit of spare time on a Sunday before the Prom last night, we slipped into the Natural History Musuem down the road, in order to enjoy the current Face To Face exhibition. I didn't know much about it - I'd only observed from the posters outside the building and gleaned that there were pictures of apes in it, which looked like a good idea to me.
It proved to be a fascinating experience, some thirty large close-up photos of gorillas, chimpanzees, Orang-Utans and bonobos. Movingly, they were united by suffering; most of them had seen their parents killed for the bushmeat and pet trades. As the photographer
James Mollison explains on the website, it was a major part of his intent to draw attention to the mistreatment of apes, but he also wanted to emphasise the individuality of the animals.

For all that you're only standing in a darkened room looking at photographs, it's a remarkably moving experience. The scale and close range of the pictures (Mollison calls them "passport photos" but that certainly isn't a reference to their size) compels us to look at their faces and see all the details; it may be a coincidence that the faces of bonobos look wrinkled and weathered, but it suits the themes extremely well. It's saddening to get such a sense of how people can treat their close biological relatives, but then considering how we treat our closer relatives (ie other humans) maybe we shouldn't be surprised.

The exhibition runs until the 18th of September and entry is free. It's recommended to anyone passing through South Kensington before then.


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