We all know that humans and apes are virtually identical genetically. But if you find that scientific fact hard to accept on an emotional level, the work of James Mollison may help. For four years the English photographer traveled the world, making close-up portraits of gorillas, chimps and orangutans. The result is one of the most detailed and revealing visual studies ever made of the great apes.
"Face to Face," an exhibition of 30 of these striking portraits, goes on display at London's Natural History Museum from May 28 to Sept. 18. Each over 6 ft. [1.8 m] tall, the photographs reveal a moving depth of personality in their subjects. Mollison's apes are laid-back, cheeky, happy and sly. But disconcertingly, many also appear profoundly depressed and fearful, and no wonder. They are orphans, rescued from poachers. One of the subjects, a young gorilla named Pumbu (pictured above right), saw her parents killed for bush meat. Another, a sad-eyed Indonesian orangutan called Bonny (shown left), lost her mother and was sold as a pet. Mollison hopes that "Face to Face" will raise awareness of the plight of apes. He need not worry. If anything could encourage us to make common cause with our simian cousins, it would be these unforgettable images.