Yes, the animals at the zoo were amazing enough that their week has expanded beyond the dictionary definition of the word. And the animal that I found most amazing to photograph was this young mandrill. He was indoors in the Primate House, in very low light behind glass, which made him a challenging subject. But he was beautiful and full of character, and once he noticed me he was actively interacting with the camera, which made him a fascinating model. And a photographic challenge just makes a good model better.
I have always felt uncomfortable in a cultural sense when photographing higher primates like apes and (in this case) baboons. You photograph an animal like an antelope or a tapir or a tiger in a certain way; you photograph a person in a very different way. In the latter case, if the person is a subject of the photograph (rather than simply a distant figure in a landscape or interior), I always feel a need to interact with them in some way before I start shooting. Even if it’s just a brief gesture with the camera/nod from the subject, I want the person to know they are being photographed and have a chance to object. An ape or baboon looks and acts enough like a person that I always feel vaguely voyeuristic photographing their “behavior” from the outside.
This mandrill gave at least the illusion that he was as interested in me as I was in him, and even more that he knew I thought he was great looking and was deliberately giving me a variety of expressions and poses to work with.
These particular photographs are going to be fairly important going forward– even as I was taking them I had a breakthrough in the character design process for an upcoming illustrated story. We will be seeing this sober, serious, spiritual face again.