Cobby, the oldest living chimpanzee in North America, is one of the animals immortalized in the black and white photographs taken by photographer Andrew Lincoln.
Though Cobby has a good life at the San Francisco Zoo where he has been living a “highly sociable life” for the last 40 years, his early life was tragic. He was orphaned and stolen from the wild, and then sold into the entertainment industry. These days, Cobby “takes great delight in perusing shoe catalogs and looking at pictures of dogs” when he isn’t engaged with other members of his “troop,” according to Lincoln.
The large black-and-white photos on exhibit at the Napa Main Library this month capture the dignity and individuality of wild animals.
Lincoln will share stories about these animals at a wine and hors d’oeuvres reception for his exhibit from 6-7:30 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 9. An artist talk is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Admission is free.
“I hope that people will see animals for what they are, individuals with unique personalities and emotions,” Lincoln said. “We experience life in so many similar ways.”
“Humans are not separate or above animals, but rather part of the continuum of life on this wondrous planet, and we must respect that for their future, as well as ours.”
Several photographs of Maggie, another chimp who fascinated Lincoln, reveal her helpful personality.
“Her empathetic nature is best exemplified by her interactions with Tallulah,” Lincoln said. “She was the troop’s matriarch and would cloak herself with burlap sacks.”
This behavior was supposedly seen by filmmaker George Lucas and became his inspiration for the fictional character, Yoda, in the Star Wars series. When Tallulah developed a form of inoperable cancer, she became weak and unable to walk by herself. Maggie would drape a cloak over her and help her walk around their habitat every day.
Through his camera’s lens, Lincoln discovers – and shares — moments in the lives of snow leopards, jaguars, birds and other animals that highlight their unique personalities.
Lincoln, who works with both color and black and white photography, doesn’t prefer one to the other, he said. He chose to keep this exhibit black and white to serve as an “equalizer” for species.”
“One species is not more colorful than another in black and white,” he said. “There’s also a timelessness to black and white.”
His focus as a photographer is wildlife, nature, culture and agriculture.
Lincoln’s current exhibit at the Napa Library will be featured in an upcoming issue of “Black and White” magazine. He is a contributing photographer to Napa County Resource Conservation District and Napa County Farm Bureau.
His work has been published in numerous publications including “Ag Alert,” “Outdoor California,” California Bountiful,” Natural History” and “Black and White.”
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His concern for wild animals is an outgrowth of his connection with domestic animals. Lincoln, who lives in Carneros, grew up in Napa on a 5-acre farm in Oakville, and animals were a daily part of his life. He even showed quarter horses.
“I was constantly surrounded by animals and always saw them as individuals with unique personalities and emotions,” he said.
Lincoln graduated from UC Davis with degrees in anthropology and art history. His emphasis in anthropology was primatology. He said that anthropology was a “primer” for what he does now.
After graduating, he realized he wanted to pursue photography and became involved in a project on rural life in Newfoundland. Perhaps the love of photography came through his genes.
“My great grandmother would spend numerous hours in the family cow shed developing plates,” Lincoln said. “My grand mum’s name was Edna Gmelch and she taught photography at the Napa College and took classes from Ansel Adams in her early years.”
Lincoln recalls that the “art of photography was all around” him and that when he was 5 years old, he kept saying that he wanted to grow up to be a National Geographic photographer.
For Lincoln, photography is a way to memorialize what he cherishes. He said he does it for himself, but he also likes the idea that he is carrying on a tradition with it.
Lincoln is attracted to the work of wildlife photographer Nick Brandt whose animal photography supports the message that humans must act now on behalf of animals and the planet, or future generations will inherit nothing but dust in what was once a beautiful planet.
“When we hear about a football field size of land being cleared out in the rainforest, we think – that’s horrible. But by focusing on an individual animal, it hits home a little bit more.”
People can develop a personal connection with “other animals” at local AZA accredited zoos (Local Association of Zoos and Aquariums), according to Lincoln.
“Zoo keeper talks and other educational content provide guests with in-depth knowledge about the socioecology, conservation status and personal anecdotes of numerous species under the zoo’s care,” he said.
“They also “provide insight into how you as an individual can contribute to species conservation in your day to day life.”
To learn more about the cognitive abilities and emotional capacities of animals Lincoln recommends TEDTalk by Frans de Waal or Carl Safina.
“Humans are not separate or above animals, but rather part of the continuum of life on this wonderous planet, and we must respect that for their future, as well as ours.” Andrew Lincoln