Looking at one of Jennifere Thompson’s photographs, you can’t help be drawn to the eyes staring back at you.
They’re almost human and the emotion in them stirs emotions in the viewer – exactly the effect Jennifere’s after.
The Woodford-based photographer has spent the past five years travelling around the world, photographing primates in the wild, and in zoos and sanctuaries.
She says emotive facial expressions are the same, no matter where she captures them.
“It’s not about where the animal is. They could be in the wild, a zoo or sanctuary. It’s about the animal,” Jennifere explains.
Tales from the wild
While Jennifere says she’s never felt threatened by a gorilla, monkey or orangutan, there have been some seriously close encounters.
The first happened in 2015 during her first overseas assignment.
“I was photographing a baby gorilla when a big silverback came up behind me and stepped on my foot. On the lefthand side, there was a female gorilla who brushed up against my thigh. They didn’t worry me, they were beautiful,” she says.
“I just kept taking photos.
“Another time, they were so close … I was trying to focus (the camera) but couldn’t. They were so close and someone yelled, ‘your camera’. I put my shirt over it, huddled and turned into the bamboo, crouching. I thought they were going to take my camera, but they lost interest.”
Jennifere says she’s never been worried or frightened by a gorilla and has even been chased by an orangutan in Borneo.
“It stopped about 5ft in front of me and posed,” she says laughing. “It just sits back and looks and I look at it, and it looks at me.”
On another occasion, one was throwing big branches in a territorial display.
“I never see any animals as a threat,” she says.
Jennifere once saw the oldest gorilla in the world, strangely enough, in Berlin.
It was 62 years old and had been rescued after being stowed away in a suitcase.
“I was photographing her and she looked straight at me,” Jennifere recalls.
It’s all in the eyes
Jennifere’s photographs draw attention to the animal’s face and when they’re looking at Jennifere, and subsequently us, that’s when the magic happens.
Her work is mostly dark, using light and shadow to accentuate the animal’s face and eliminate the background.
“If you see them in the wild, they have a stillness and calmness about them. I think I see myself in them … the emotions … they just have that look,” she explains.
“There’s some that don’t have a lot of emotion in their face, we you can still read their eyes.”
How it all began
Jennifere left the Victorian Police Service to have a hand operation in 2011, from which it took a year to recover. During that time, her husband bought her a camera but she was initially unable to hold it.
When she regained strength in her hand, she started exploring the camera but didn’t really know how to use it, so she enrolled in a course.
One of her assignments was to photograph animals in a zoo. Her work was part of an exhibition and the experience sparked a passion to photograph animals around the world.
In 2015 she travelled to Rwanda, ending up in the capital Kigali and setting off with a driver to photograph gorilla. Five years on, she has 35 completed portraits in the ICU Too series and many more on her computer to work on.
ICU Too exhibition
The title of the exhibition is a play on words. There’s the obvious intensive care reference, because the animals face significant threats, but also because Jennifere cares intensely about them.
It also refers to the primate’s interest in humans (seeing us too), something she’s witnessed many times since her first encounter with a monkey in a circus trailer as a child.
“We’re thinking we’re looking at them, but they’re looking at us too. It’s a two-way thing,” she says.
Jennifere will present a meet the artist talk at the gallery on August 8 at 2pm during which she will share stories of photographing primates and explain her technique.
She’s hoping her work will resonate with those who come to see it and they will do what they can to preserve these intriguing animals.
You can also be inspired by Jennifere’s work and make your own monkey mask at home. Visit https://www.moretonbay.qld.gov.au/Galleries-Museums/Events/CRAG/Monkey-Masks for details and to download the activity.
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