Well I’m really-really-really late to the party but I need to at least give you guys something so I’m not a total bum.
I’m thinking back to our visit to Como Zoo and what a nice time I had. Although I’ve never been a big fan of zoos I thought the reason for our going was great. What I wish we could do is have the resources to make all of our excellent biome ideas come true. But we can dream and try to inspire the future.
One of the thoughts I had while walking around the zoo was—what if humans were put behind glass and on display. Since our assignment was to observe people observing the animals and interacting with their environments I found this perspective to be pretty helpful.
The one aspect that really stuck out to me was how the habitats are downsized to a relatively microscopic level—compared to the animal’s natural habitats—so that people would have the opportunity to see the creatures up close. It begged the question, are these habitats setup for our benefit as observers or the occupant’s benefit of physical safety and/or rehabilitation?
Let’s consider a hypothetical comparison. Let’s say that we as MCAD students are on display for the benefit of others to observe. We would need to be kept in a limited space (like the MCAD campus) and be given only what we need—to be what we are—and nothing more. We could never leave campus and we’d have to tolerate groups of people taking turns observing us in our “natural habitat” all day long while we studied. What a terrible existence it’d be.
Imagine getting tossed chunks of chocolate-peanut butter rice-krispy treats from the cafeteria while we pick bugs out of each other’s hair hiding from groups of little kids banging on our glass walls while their parents play youtube videos to us of students they saw on their visit to the U of M campus last month.
I know this is a pretty ridiculous mental picture I’m attempting to create for you. But realistically, it’s pretty much what I observed on our visit to the zoo at the primate habitat. I so badly wanted to wave a magic wand and expand their containment areas by 100 times or more.
But that’s not where I spent my 30 minute observation time. I actually spent that time in the “zen garden” outside of the terrarium. I walked around for a short time to find a good place to sit. At first I thought a bench would work but decided against it for fear of interfering with the natural flow of people walking and spending their own quiet time. Instead I found a small boulder off the path just a bit and found a comfortable groove to sit and watch.
People walked with one another taking photos of each other while I took my own of them. Little did they know I had caught them in my own personal pop-up human zoo.
A family gathered to take a “group-selfie” with a shallow water fall trickling behind them. I took a quick photo of the moment.
A couple of minutes later two Japanese women take a seat on a wooden bench to my left. They certainly brought the atmosphere together for the moment. They really fit into the scene. They sat quietly—peacefully—enjoying they serine human habitat. I aim to take a couple of photos as one of the ladies looks over at me. I gesture for permission to take a photo--she agrees. I snap a couple of shots and moments later send a nod of gratitude.
I see the same family taking another group selfie off in the distance, probably with another quaint yet unremarkable backdrop.
Then to my right two other ladies sitting on the other bench. Looking at them reminded me that I was in Minnesota. They sat there gossiping while crunching on apples. I shoot a couple of photos but my exposure was off so I adjust and fire off a couple more as one of the ladies looks over in my direction.
The atmosphere is quiet for a while and I take the time to enjoy it.
The Japanese ladies make their motion to depart and I take the cue as well. I give them a subtle wave of goodbye.
I begin walking back to meet up with my group and as I pass the two apple crunching women one of them asks rather starkly; did you take a photo of us? I answered truthfully and could tell that she was irritated by me. She was very cold and stern and was adamant that I should have asked for permission first. I replied with an apology and explained that asking to take her photo would have an adverse affect on the observations I was trying to capture. I show her the preview on my camera and erase the image and gain a little approval.
After putting her mind at ease I walk away to find my group; little did she know that I actually took more than just the one photo of her and her friend.
So what did I learn from all of this?Comparing my time in the zen garden with that of my brief observations of the primate exhibit revealed some correlations. In the primate exhibit I noticed that some of the primates seemed to enjoy the attention from human observers while others seemed to avoid interactions completely--they wanted to be left alone and unnoticed. In the zen garden by comparison I found similar mindsets between the two couples of ladies. The first couple of ladies to my left were happy to be observed and photographed while the other two seemed offended by it--like they just wanted to be in public but left unseen. The family didn’t taking selfies seem to care either way--they were in their own little world. The big difference between the primates and the humans was that the humans had a choice to stay home, the primates were home.