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Press release

Face to Face: Photography by James Mollison

28 May – 18 September 2005

James Mollison’s extraordinary images of orphaned apes will be exhibited for the first time in the UK in Face to Face: Photography by James Mollison, at the Natural History Museum.

Mollison’s emotive portraits of gorillas, chimpanzees, orang-utans and bonobos highlight the vitality and intelligence of these magnificent and threatened animals – our closest biological relatives. The exhibition will encourage us to consider our relationship with, and our treatment of, the natural world by bringing us face to face with some of the individual animals that have been most deeply affected by the actions of humans.

The exhibition features an early edition of Charles Darwin’s seminal, then controversial, work Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals. Exhibition curator Bob Bloomfield comments, ‘When Darwin observed apes in captivity he saw a common link between their emotions and those of humans. Face to Face places the observer in Darwin’s position of careful observation and invites us to consider the expression and emotion of these creatures. As we contemplate the innocence and vulnerability of these apes, we are forced to question our own inhumanity and arrogance in the way we mistreat nature’.

Speaking of his experiences while taking the photographs in Face to Face, James Mollison said, ‘It was a real privilege to be with these apes. A general spirit of naughtiness prevailed from their part and not a piece of clothing or equipment was safe. It reminded me of playfighting as a boy. I was also really struck by the importance of touch and their need for affection. Many of them were deeply scarred from what they had seen – their mothers and family butchered in front of them. Sadly, these apes just represent the tip of the iceberg and unless there is real political action now our cousins will soon be gone.’

Over four years, James photographed in ape sanctuaries in Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Republic of Congo, Indonesia, Germany and the USA. The world’s leading authority on ape behaviour, Jane Goodall, helped him to develop relationships with the apes so he could capture their personalities through photography.

Reproduced at two metres high, each of the 30 photographs displayed tells a personal story. When Chim’s parents were killed for the bushmeat trade, she was kept like a human child and made to dance to receive food. Now living at Mvog Betsi Zoo in Cameroon, she still sometimes dances when hungry. Bonny’s mother was killed so that he could be taken for the live animal trade. Fearing arrest, his owner took him to a zoo and from there he was transferred to a larger reservation. Bonny is soon to be released back into the wild.

This is James Mollison’s first solo exhibition in the UK. He lives in Venice and is part of the creative team at Fabrica, Benetton’s communication research centre, as well as being a regular contributor to COLORS Magazine and other publications in Italy and the UK. James joined Fabrica in 1998 and a year later published his first two solo books – Lavoratori, a study of immigrant workers in the Veneto region of Italy and iO? Bologna!, a celebration of Bologna Football Club’s ninetieth birthday that focused on the passion of its fans. In 2000, he took on the photography for Benetton’s advertising campaigns, and now features regularly in COLORS Magazine. He became known for his work with the World Food Programme for a Benetton campaign in 2002.

Face to Face: Photography by James Mollison is supported by United Colors of Benetton.

Notes for editors

  • The images in Face to Face were featured in a Benetton communications campaign in October 2004 and were published in the book James and Other Apes (Chris Boot, 2004).
  • Winner of the 2004 Large Visitor Attraction of the Year award, the Natural History Museum is also a world-leading science research centre. Through its collections and scientific expertise, the Museum is helping to conserve the extraordinary richness and diversity of the natural world with groundbreaking projects in 68 countries. The Museum is committed to encouraging public engagement with science. This has been greatly enhanced by the Darwin Centre, a major new initiative, which offers visitors unique access behind the scenes of the Museum. Phase One of the project opened to the public in 2002 and Phase Two is scheduled to open in 2008.
  • Through its diverse and innovative arts programme, the Natural History Museum aims to promote the understanding and enjoyment of the natural world, communicating the Museum’s science through various media. The Museum has exhibited work by different artists such as Peter Randall-Page, Olly & Suzi and Jan Fabre, and produced performances with companies such as Forkbeard Fantasy, Scarabeus Theatre and Faulty Optic.

Visitor information
Admission: free
Venue: Jerwood Gallery, the Natural History Museum
Opening hours: Monday to Saturday 10.00–17.50, Sunday 11.00–17.50
Visitor enquiries: 020 7942 5000 Monday–Friday, 020 7942 5011 Saturday and Sunday

For further information, please contact: Sarah Hoyle, Becky Chetley, Alison Enticknap or Mairi Allan
Tel: 020 7942 5654 Email:
(not for publication)

Issued May 2005