James Mollison, Charles Darwin and Apes

About James Mollison

Born in 1973 in Kenya, James Mollison studied Art and Design at Oxford Brookes University, and Documentary Photography at Newport School of Art and Design in the UK. Since 1998, he has lived in Venice, Italy, working with Fabrica, Benetton’s creative laboratory.

Over four years Mollison visited seven ape sanctuaries in Africa, Asia, Europe and the USA, photographing gorillas, orang-utans, chimpanzees and bonobos. Most were orphaned when their parents were killed for food to satisfy the bushmeat trade.

Aided by Jane Goodall, a leading authority on ape behaviour, Mollison was able to build relationships with these threatened animals and capture their individual personalities in a series of extraordinarily moving portraits.

His recent book James & Other Apes (2004) features 50 images of apes, 30 of which have been selected for the Face to Face exhibition.

Other books by James Mollison include:

  • Lavoratori (1999), a study of immigrant workers in the Veneto region of Italy.
  • iO? Bologna! (1999), a celebration of Bologna Football Club’s ninetieth birthday.
  • Kosovars (2000), a study of refugees from the conflict in the Balkans.

Mollison continues to work with Fabrica on campaigns, contributing to Colors Magazine, The United Nations Refugee Agency, The World Health Organization, i-D magazine, The Guardian, Arena, Amica and El Pais, among others, and on personal projects.

Charles Darwin and apes

Charles Darwin was convinced of the close evolutionary relationship between apes and humans. In 1837 Jenny, an orang-utan, was brought to London Zoo. Her close resemblance to humans was disturbing and the fact that she could behave so like a human caused much consternation amongst visitors. Darwin suggested that humans evolved in Africa from apes as a result of the harsh climate and hunting behaviour that would encourage natural selection and promote evolution from ape to biped.

Darwin’s observations of Jenny eventually led to the book Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals published in 1872. In the book Darwin argued that emotions in humans such as love, joy, anger, guilt and horror share the same evolutionary origins as those of other animals. The prevailing Christian view at the time was that emotions were a special gift to humans from God. This concept is still hotly debated in some quarters even today.