Eric Pillot’s series In Situ sees the photographer capture animals in their unnatural habitats, in the painted zoo enclosures that have become a familiar part of making the animals feel “at home”. “I capture them as I see them, without any digital retouching or manipulation,” says Eric. “The title is ironic of course, because these animals are displaced, they don’t live in nature – much like ourselves, who live in urban jungles.”
The series started when Eric visited a zoo that offered an underwater view of polar bears. “I saw these very impressive bears swimming and playing like children and this sight had a very special atmosphere, like a dream,” Eric explains. This inspired the photographer to capture this juxtaposition between the artificially created elements of the zoo enclosures with the animals on camera and the series is full of contrasting images. The most effective photographs are where the animals stand in front of a painted scene full of trees and wild plants and other animals, and the distinction between what’s real and artificial becomes blurred.
The habitats of zoo animals has been a topic many photographers have explored in the past, including Sheng Wen Lo’s series earlier this year, which focused on the habitats of polar bears around the world. The difference in Eric’s series is his focus isn’t on ethical implications of zoos as a concept. Rather, his intentions are about creating visual contrasts through his painterly approach.
While travelling around Europe and North America to various zoos, Eric has concentrated on finding spaces with interesting indoor installations for the animals. “I try to photograph animal with empathy and I take the picture when the animal seems to be a part of the decors, like a painted could plant it,” he says. Waiting for these moments is part of Eric’s style which is careful and considered, and sees him concentrating on the details, like colour and composition, that make up a whole picture.
“Within the framework of the series, the animals placed inside the enclosures seem to represent something of the ‘animal inside us’ in all its diversity,” says Eric on what he hopes to convey. Eric’s work is a metaphor of nature, and by isolating these animals as singular figures in his photographs, Eric creates an intimacy with the viewer and the subject, “encouraging an encounter with the ‘other’” – an other according to Eric that we have watched, and who in return watches us as well.
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