We strictly demarcate the world of humans and animals. Each creature except man we call an animal. Generally accepted boundaries are not contractual but determined, and eliminate any space for beings between these two terms. We describe humans as living creatures, distinguished by the highest degree of development of the psyche and social life, while the rest are mere animals.

He is standing beside a huge glass that separates him from visitors, a titanic figure attracts more curious ones, they want to look at him, look in his eyes, terrifyingly manlike. The crowd is getting bigger and bigger, it is getting tighter at the rail. Suddenly, he stands up and powerfully hit the glass. Frightened people disperse, he is watching them, walking along the run, and this situation amuses him.

A moment later, he is coming back to his place at the window and waits…

(IVO- Gorilla – Berlin)

While visiting more than fifteen zoos in Europe, I observed and photographed living organisms which are the most similar to the human being, that is: apes. Initially I was looking for superficial, anatomical similarities and deceptively manlike behaviors.

He is lying on beams of a dais of his run, playing with a ball hanging on a rope. He does not approach the visitors. He hates when they flash lamps from their cameras, he always turns his back when they are too close.

At some point, he sees someone new in the support area. He runs up to the sheet of glass that separates the room of wardens with the run. He is observing a stranger, their eyes meet, the intruder looks down avoiding the challenge, its good, since he is on his turf. The warden slowly takes a photo album. He is waiting and then running closer, as he wants to see what is going on, he is curious about everything. He is viewing pictures, analyzing them, and following other males and females, he recognizes himself ; he likes these pictures, wants to see more, and is angry when the intruder and the warden are going away. He is going back to the run, as the feeding time is coming…

(M’tonge – Gorilla – Warsaw)

When visiting zoos as another visitor, I was not able to capture on pictures nothing else than aesthetic-like images of animals in a changing environment of runs and cages. Only a longer observation of individual characters allowed me to perceive various grimaces, gestures and emotions, surfacing from animal mechanics.

It’s early morning of one of the autumn days. Clear sky allows rays to easily penetrate through the roof of a large greenhouse. He is slowly waking up, hugging his mother. He is looking around. He sees the opening door, which are entered by a pair of young visitors, followed by a mother with a child. The child runs towards the sheet of glass, where he is already waiting on the other side. They are curious about each other, engaging gestures, movements and mines. It’s normal, after all they are both children. At some point, he is wrapping his head with a bag. He immediately destroys the visual impression of being just an animal. Visitors are surprised, instinctively moving away from him. A moment passes; he is throwing the bag and going back to his mother in anticipation of new guests…

(Orangutan – Vienna)

My almost two years of observing primates forced me to rebuild my opinion anew about who we share this planet with. Asked today, I would reply that we should not treat them as mere animals, but maybe we should think of them as self aware, non-human persons full of emotions. Limited by beastly instincts and reactions but also worthy of our respect.

—Paweł Bogumił


Editors’ Note: Don’t miss the work of all the other winners and finalists from the LensCulture Earth Awards 2015. In total, you’ll find 34 unique points of view inspired by the earth, nature and our shared surroundings. Beauty, destruction, wonder and hope—these are timely, important works that shouldn’t be missed!