February 8th, 2007 13:26 EST
The Pain Behind Eyes of Beauty
The bright crystal blue of his eyes starkly contrast those of his subjects. His subjects bear gazes of empty darkness, seemingly hopeless. This emptiness pours out from subjects who frequently generate happiness, from animals.
Frank Noelker’s recent publication, Captive Beauty, photographically portrays animals in a distinct way. He does not photograph animals in the wild or cute pets dressed in costumes. He photographs zoo animals in their cages and sanctuaries.
Opposed to the normal zoo visits where people throw peanuts and children watch wild-eyed, these portraits produce a more grave reaction. Noelker’s portraits showcase these animals with what appears to be their true emotions. Staring blankly into the camera or down off to the side they appear engulfed by boredom and anxiety.
Noelker displays how this suspected great place for wildlife where endangered species can be rescued and saved serves more like a hell, where their place of living, frequently no larger than a dorm room, is overwhelmed by their large bodies leaving them no room to play.
In a classroom of students looking through his photographs Noelker explains how animals would pace and often lean from side to side. He says he believes this is from caging them in allowing them small if any room to move, causing them sheer boredom and emotional pain. He questions how much zoo’s actually serve as a safe haven for animals claiming that “the best zoo is still a prison for the innocent.” Seven years and 360 zoos prove to Noelker to be enough observational evidence to make his case.
Noelker’s ideas match meticulously with the photographs in the book. Zoos seen as torture for animals not from abuse but from lack of stimulation is a recurring theme as the pages are turned. The animals in these photographs stand idly in their cages and sanctuaries as if waiting for something, anything to happen.
Multiple times in his discussion Noelker brings up human influence as a strong factor of why these animals are being treated the way they are. “Animals lives are as much about us as they are about anything else,” Noelker claims as he defends why he believes zoos are so bad.
Blaming this corruption on people and the politics behind them, “Anything that’s wrong with a zoo is wrong with us,” Noelker says he receives great support from animals’ rights activists. But he insists that he stands behind his book not as a political statement but more as a conviction against zoos for their treatment of animals.
Regardless of his wavering political claims, he does serve a good deal of evidence against zoos. Almost subconsciously stressing his point, Noelker has given every photo in the book a caption consisting only of the type of animal, location of the zoo and year of the visit. Plain, undisruptive captions to match the relentless, boring, undisruptive lives he portrays in his photographs. Noelker is an “artist who teaches” as he simultaneously works as an assistant professor at UConn. Noelker takes his months off from school to travel and so art. His most recent work, pictures of retired entertainment and research chimpanzees, is currently being displayed at the Eastmond Museum.