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.

Ridgers reminisces. Photo & text: Derek Ridgers (4/5)

Van without wheels. Feltham, 1981. © Derek Ridgers.

Derek Ridgers writes:

This may look like a van with no wheels but to me it was an epiphany.

I was prostrate, stripped to a pair of shorts in a corner of the car park of Feltham Swimming Baths at the time, so it was an odd position to be seeing the light from.  But it was at just about that moment, whilst I was taking that photograph, that I came to realise that I didn’t really want to be doing that sort of thing anymore. By “that sort of thing”, I mean advertising photography.  At that moment, I realised that, other than financially, it was never going to amount to a particularly sensible career aspiration for me.

It was in August 1981 and it was only a few months after I’d left work at the London advertising agency Royds, where I’d spent the previous three years working as an art director. Though I say “left” that word isn’t exactly right.  I was fired for reasons which, even now, I’m not completely sure about.  But it wasn’t the first time I’d been fired from an advertising agency, far from it.  In those days, employers never needed much of a reason.  Especially in the rather cut-throat advertising business. Thinking back, it might have been because I’d elected not to work on the apartheid era South African Airways account.  I don’t honestly know.  I’d worked on quite a lot of successful accounts at Royds and I thought I’d done very well.  But refusing to work on the South African Airways account may have upset the ultra-Conservative (with a cap C) chairman.  I thought I had a choice but maybe I really didn’t. A few weeks later they just said “we’re going to have to let you go” and that was it.

I really enjoyed working as an ad agency art director.  At times, it really was a bit like the TV show Mad Men.  But with a lot more emphasis on the mad. In the context of 2011, some of the habits and working processes of ad men of the time would seem totally certifiable.  Even then we realised much of what we were getting away with was a little excessive.   Hugely enjoyable but certainly excessive. But, after ten years, a little voice in my head suggested that maybe I’d be better off out of the ad world.  And besides, if you’re in the creative department and you’re not at, or near, the top by the time you’re 30, you’re rapidly reaching your sell-by date anyway.

But my sacking came at a perfect time in my fledgling photography career.  I’d just had my second one man show (‘Skinheads’ in the Autumn of 1980) and I was getting my work into print fairly regularly.  Plus many of my advertising friends said that they’d give me some photography work, if I decided to try to make a career out of it. And so, a few months after I left Royds, one of my old colleagues called me in and asked me to take a photo of a van with no wheels.  They showed me a few layouts and said it could be any van, just as long as it had no wheels.  They didn’t want anything much in the background either.  That was all.  It seemed simple enough.

So that’s how I came to be laying down, half naked, in the grit and grime of Feltham Swimming Baths car park.  It was the only place I could find near where I lived that would allow me to take a photo of the van without too many buildings or trees in the background. It seemed like relatively easy money, so I hired a van and four car stands and set about the task. Anyone who’d been watching me that day whilst I did that shoot would have seen someone drive in and park a rental van in the emptiest corner of the car park.  Then they’d have seen them jack up and remove all four wheels, remove most their clothes, (it was an extremely hot, humid day) and then go and lie down on the ground about 40 feet away take a few photographs of the wheelless van.  Then then they’d have seen that person put the wheels back on, get dressed and drive off…. Anyone watching might have thought it seemed crazy.

As I was laying there sweating, with car park grit sticking to my chest, elbows and legs, it started to dawn on me that maybe I didn’t want to be an advertising photographer after all. I didn’t have an assistant in those days (it would be nearly a decade before I had one) and it simply didn’t occur to me how much stress and bother I would have saved if I’d simply hired an assistant for the day.  That is what photographic assistants are for, after all, to do the hard stuff, so you don’t have to. But this was the moment I decided that that kind of photography work just wasn’t for me.

The guys at the agency seemed pleased and the ad itself turned out surprisingly well.  But it wasn’t the kind of photograph anyone dreams of taking and if it wasn’t for this blog, this photograph would have been forgotten by all concerned three decades ago.

© Derek Ridgers. From The Ponytail Pontifications.