"The eyes of an animal when they consider a man are attentive and wary. The same animal may well look at other species in the same way. He does not reserve a special look for man. But by no other species except man will the animal's look be recognized as familiar. Other animals are held by the look. Man becomes aware of himself returning the look."
Andrea Alessio's new book, UnNatural Bestiary, opens with the quote above and from its cover, seems to promise only to raise our sympathies for sad-looking caged animals. Yet the book's second image shows some very, very still, gazelle-like creatures that are not behinds bars at all. These gemsbok would be free to leave but for the fact that they are dead and stuffed — a display at the Museum of Natural History in New York.
The further we go into Alessio's UnNatural Bestiary, the more nuanced our gaze becomes. When the book juxtaposes life-like (but actually dead) taxidermy with the life-like (but only half-alive) enclosed zoo animals, it moves beyond the one-dimensional sadness of seeing captive nature. Whether showing stuffed or caged animals, the best photos raise questions about our own self-imposed enclosures, our sometimes inert ways of "life".
With photographs spanning 20 years and many different countries, this project feels like it was long-held and personal. It's poignant to share the experience with Alessio, as the ideas linger on after the book has been closed.
UnNatural Bestiary by Andrea Alessio
Publisher: Zack Books
Cardboard, 15 x 21 cm
Editor's note: We're especially pleased to see this book out in the world. We first discovered Andrea Alessio's remarkable work when judging the San Francisco International Photography Awards in 2013. Then we had the pleasure of meeting him in person in Paris during portfolio reviews at LensCulture FotoFest Paris. The book is really very special, but in a limited edition of 500 only.