Christmas on Greek Street.

© David Secombe 2010.

From Act Two of The Homecoming, Harold Pinter, 1965:

LENNY: […] I’ve got a better idea. Why don’t I take her with me up to Greek Street?


MAX: You mean put her on the game?


We’ll put her on the game. That’s a stroke of genius, that’s a marvellous idea. You mean she can earn the money herself – on her back?


MAX: Wonderful. The only thing is, it’ll have to be short hours. We don’t want her out of the house all night.

LENNY: I can limit the hours.

MAX: How many?

LENNY: Four hours a night.

MAX: (dubiously) Is that enough?

LENNY: She’ll bring in a good sum for four hours a night.

MAX: Well, you should know. After all, it’s true, the last thing we want to do is to wear the girl out. She’s going to have her obligations this end as well. Where you going to put her in Greek Street?

LENNY: It doesn’t have to be right in Greek Street, Dad. I’ve got a number of flats all around that area.

MAX: You have? Well, what about me? Why don’t you give me one?

LENNY:  You’re sexless.

… and a Merry Christmas to all our readers. 

(see also: Old and New Soho no.5)

Zoo. Photos: Britta Jaschinski, text: Randy Malamud. (5/5)

Lar Gibbon, Zoo Series, London 1992. © Britta Jaschinski.

Randy Malamud writes:

An otherworldly darkness permeates Jaschinski’s work, a troubling philosophical depth that touches both the animal inside the frame and the human spectator who is outside looking at the creature. A sense of uncertainty resonates in her photography—uncertainty about the animal’s context, the animal’s sentience, the animal’s feelings.  This sense of the unknown challenges the human audience’s habitual expectations of omniscient insight with regard to other animals.

I believe that it is wrong for us to see the monkey in the way we are seeing it, in a zoo, or even in a photograph from a zoo, and yet it is at the same time mesmerizing. Is this lar gibbon as fascinated by his spectators as we are of him? What does he think of us? We cannot know. The energy that Jaschinski’s image conveys is at the same time profound and profane. The longer we regard this gibbon, if we learn anything, it is how much we cannot know.

Our relationship with non-human animals is rich, intricate, and troubled.  People are fascinated by animals, and respond to them in ways that are at times full of homage and awe, and at other times oppressive and perverse.  We are prone to appreciate, or to fetishize, animals in isolation as discretely framed specimens (in a zoo, or as a pet, or a meal, or a toy) distanced from their groups, alienated from their contexts.  But still they are there, all around us.

What is wrong here?  What is missing?  Where is the viewer situated in relation to the subject? What is the connection between imagining and exploiting animals? What has the photographic aesthetic done – and what have we done – to capture, and to betray, these creatures? What are these animals doing as we look at the sliver of their existence that is frozen and framed in the moment of each photograph? What kinds of movements, instinctual urges, behavioral patterns are suggested in the picture?  And more to the point, what sorts of movements, instincts, and behaviors are suppressed in these images?  A large “negative text” pervades Jaschinski’s photography.  We are asked to see many things – habitat, activities – that are not there; we are confronted with their absence.

© Randy Malamud.

Zoo by Britta Jaschinski is published by Phaidon.

Zoo. Photos: Britta Jaschinski, text: Randy Malamud. (4/5)

Bactrian Camel, Zoo Series, London 1992. © Britta Jaschinski.

Randy Malamud writes:

Zoos are obviously bad for animals, cruel to animals, but beyond that, they’re bad places for people to learn how we relate to the other creatures with whom we share the planet.  Zoos are a case study of people’s environmental short-sightedness. After and beyond the experience of zoogoing, people behave like imperious emperors toward the rest of the world, overconsuming, unsustainably harvesting plants, animals, minerals, oil, land, and yet remaining in denial about our impact on the planet.  Our disregard for animals, our displacement of them, betokens a larger environmental hubris, or blindness.  Zoos promote sloppy, imperial animal-looking and animal-thinking, which generates a sloppy, self-serving, inauthentic environmental sensibility.  To confront overarching questions about how people construct and interact with “the environment,” a consideration of zoos offers a good ingress. The cultural history of the zoo is a history of human assaults upon other animals, and upon the rest of nature.  Zoogoing is a model of imperial exploitation of the natural world.

Zoos exist because people want to make animals conveniently accessible and visible, but there is nothing convenient about wild animals.  They are complicated, enigmatic, entropic.  Jaschinski’s photography embraces this complexity, and subverts our urge to simplify and reduce their lives.

© Randy Malamud.

Zoo by Britta Jaschinski is published by Phaidon.

Zoo. Photos: Britta Jaschinski, text: Randy Malamud. (3/5)

Asian Elephant, Zoo Series, London 1992.  © Britta Jaschinski.

Randy Malamud writes: 

Zoo animals are removed from their own contexts, their own habitats, and resituated in a context that makes it more convenient for spectators to see them.  The disjunction between where an elephant really lives and this Regent’s Park pied-a-terre is surreal.  Zookeepers tell their audiences that the point of zoos is for people to establish connections with other animals, and to inculcate a sense of ecological awareness as human expansion threatens animal habitats.  But paradoxically – perversely – the zoo features animals divorced from their world.

The elephant people see in the zoo is not a “real” elephant.  The real elephant lives in her place, in her habitat, in her environment, among and alongside many other animals of her own species, as well as many animals of other species, predators and prey, friends and strangers.  She lives there because her lifecycle is predicated upon a certain seasonal climate, a certain range of movement, an environment comprised of certain plants, trees, water, dirt, stones, topography, and so forth.  It is fundamentally impossible for zoos to reproduce any significant amount of this animal’s habitat.

As people expressed feeling of guilt about seeing caged animals in prison, some zoos began to modify the enclosures, largely to alleviate the spectator’s discomfort.  Perhaps the designers who created this brutalist elephant compound thought that the “brutes” inhabiting it would feel at home here. But the zoo’s architectural spectacles do not alter the fact that the constrained animal on display lacks most aspects of the environment in which he or she naturally lives.  Zoo-goers cannot see an elephant who acts or feeds or sleeps or eats or mates or nurtures or fights in the way a real elephant would.  Depressive, anxious, and fearful behaviour – learned helplessness, self-injury, stereotypic repetition — is rampant among captive animals on display.

© Randy Malamud.

Zoo by Britta Jaschinski is published by Phaidon.

Zoo. Photos: Britta Jaschinski, text: Randy Malamud. (2/5)

Black-Footed (Jackass) Penguin, Zoo Series, London 1995. © Britta Jaschinski.

Randy Malamud writes:

Walking in the Zoo, walking in the Zoo.

The O.K. thing on Sunday is the walking in the Zoo.

So sang Victorian music-hall artist Alfred Vance – the Great Vance! – in 1870, appearing as a dandy London “swell” recounting his excursion to Regent’s Park.  The Fellows of the Zoological Society of London were not amused by his contribution of the word “zoo” to the lexicon, dismayed that the common monosyllabic moniker trivialized their importance.

“ZSL London Zoo,” as it calls itself today, opened to the Fellows of the Society in 1828, and to paying visitors from the public at large in 1847.  Some of its cages (or “enclosures,” in today’s softer euphemism of zoo discourse) date back to that era: the Raven’s Cage was erected in 1829, and the Giraffe House still in use was built in the 1830s.

Walking in the zoo today, one feels many shadows of the past: not just from the physical compound of Decimus Burton’s nineteenth-century architecture and grounds, but also from the historical legacy of imperialism.  The zoo was the project of Sir Stamford Raffles, imperialist extraordinaire.  His day job was subduing and plundering Java and Sumatra as a colonial agent for the East India Company.  As a hobby, he amassed animals during his exotic adventures, and this menagerie became the Zoological Society’s founding collection.

Zoogoers looking at these penguins’ silhouettes might recall the shadowy legacy of captive animal display as a celebration of Victorian triumphalism, offering spectators a taste, an amuse-bouche, of the British Empire’s global conquests.  The intent was to persuade the masses that they benefited somehow from the imperial enterprise – that is, “the white man’s burden,” achieving domination and ownership, imposing commercial, cultural, political, and ideological control upon all the world’s different regions and habitats and cultures.  The proletariat’s payoff was simply being able to see all these geographically diverse and exotic creatures and bask in the prowess that facilitated the exhibition of such a splendid corpus of animals in the heart of London.

Are the animals actually there at all, or are we just watching shadow-puppets playing out the nostalgic fantasy of imperial control?

© Randy Malamud.

Zoo by Britta Jaschinski is published by Phaidon.

Zoo. Photos: Britta Jaschinski, text: Randy Malamud (1/5)

Sumatran Tiger, Zoo Series, London Zoo 1993. © Britta Jaschinski.

Randy Malamud writes:

Britta Jaschinski’s portraits of animals show an insightful expression of the animal’s identity and individuality, an almost devout fascination with the animal’s spirit.  But at the same time they resemble mugshots of trapped and unhappy creatures at their worst moments of suffering, caught and fixed in the harsh frame of the image (which is itself metaphorically another cage).  They convey loneliness, alienation, displacement. Paradoxically, a single picture may evoke these disparate sensibilities at the same time, both an homage to the animal’s nobility and an angry protest at his constraints.

A photograph of a Sumatran tiger (except it isn’t a Sumatran tiger any longer; now it’s a London tiger) reveals pathos, injustice: the pain of an animal in captivity,  The tiger is still, silent, stuck.  A pervasive human geometry defines the space. If spectators can infer any sense of emotion or sentience from the creature depicted in a room of sterile white tile, it is resignation, defeat, anomie.

People have a propensity for gawking at subjugated otherness — for example in freak-shows or on reality television — as a way of reaffirming our own supremacy.  In the nineteenth century Londoners used to go to Bedlam (St. Mary Bethlehem Hospital) to stare at the lunatics. For a penny one could peer into their cells and laugh at their antics, generally sexual or violent. Entry was free on the first Tuesday of the month. Visitors were permitted to bring long sticks to poke the inmates. In the year 1814, there were 96,000 such visits.

© Randy Malamud.

Zoo by Britta Jaschinski is published by Phaidon.

Ridgers reminisces. Photo & text Derek Ridgers (5/5)

Tony and Freddie, Southwark, 2000. Photo © Derek Ridgers.

Derek Ridgers writes:

This is a portrait of Tony Lambrianou (RIP) and Freddie Foreman commissioned by Vox magazine.  Freddie Foreman who is, incidentally, the father of the actor Jamie Foreman, was once known as ‘Brown Bread Fred.‘  If you don’t know your cockney rhyming slang, the significance of this nickname won’t be obvious but save to say they were both once rather dangerous men.  They were both associates of the Kray firm and they both served serious prison time for their involvement in the murder of Jack ‘The Hat’ McVitie.

I photographed them around Freddie’s old manor, in the area south of Southwark Bridge in London. I went on a pub crawl with them afterwards and they were very amusing company, with endless stories of the old days and all their friends, euphemistically known as “the chaps.” They were nice but, even in their dotage, I’d be lying if I said that they were completely devoid of any hint of menace. If I’d have met them in their pomp, in the ‘60s, I’d have run a mile.

The thing is, back then, they might not have let me.

© Derek Ridgers. From The Ponytail Pontifications.