Does a tiger appreciate the quality of a natural landscape painted
on the back wall of its concrete and steel enclosure? Who really
benefits from a penguin exhibit's unchanging sky? And what's a
tortoise to do in the middle of Los Angeles?
Frank Noelker intentionally isolates his zoo animal subjects in the
50 contemplative photographs of Captive Beauty (University
of Illinois Press, $50, cloth; $25, paper). Exhibit information,
visitors and concession stands are blocked out. All we see is an
animal (or two) in a sparse environment with little stimulation or
interaction with its own kind.
The collection doesn't offer a complete picture of zoos, but it does
zero in on the debate over their role as cultural institutions.
Nigel Rothfels's fine introduction touches on conservation and
education goals and notes recent comparisons of zoos to prisons and
strip clubs. Captive Beauty may change what people see the
next time they visit a zoo.
Proceeds from the sale of this book will go to the Jane Goodall
Institute for Wildlife Research, Education, and Conservation.
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