Here at Etsy, we believe that the story behind an object is often just as fascinating as the object itself. Short Stories is our series dedicated to telling the tales behind extraordinary pieces found or created by Etsy sellers.
I’m a former zookeeper with mixed feelings about zoos. A few years ago, I wrote and photo-illustrated a young-adult book called One Kingdom: Our Lives with Animals (Houghton Mifflin, 2006) that explored the human-animal bond in myth, history, science, and story.
I was shooting black-and-white film at the time, and two big themes in the book are emotional intelligence in animals and the ways we anthropomorphize them for our own purposes, so I settled on close-cropped emotional portraits. I wanted to focus on each subject as an individual. But isolating them from their environments (most were photographed in zoos) later made me feel that I’d cheated somehow, sacrificing truth for beauty, especially after I saw the work of Britta Jaschinski, a photographer who doesn’t flinch from what captivity really looks like.
It’s been a while, but I’m 99% sure this bear was photographed in Oregon Zoo, about three years after One Kingdom came out. There’s nothing subtle about the picture. I caught him in a still moment, and the environment says it all. I didn’t have global warming or the plight of his species on the brain at the time, but you can certainly view this “lonely” bear — adrift on his concrete floe — as a metaphor for what’s happening. Zoos are often referred to as “arks,” a last refuge for endangered species, and while they play a critical conservation role by educating the public, it’s an uneasy exchange, I fear. That fear, that feeling, is what’s relayed here.
Editor’s note: Due to technical constraints, we had to crop the photo for this post. Be sure to click through for the full view of Deb’s beautiful photo.
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