Black and white animal handlers

In my album of photos from Egypt, taken in 1941 and 1942, there are some photos of a monkey named Kan-Kan performing in the street, muzzled and held on a leash by a handler. When I went to my local zoo a couple of years ago, I took photos of animal handlers, such as the woman with the snake here on the right. The animals are equally interesting to the spectators in each photo, but the demands of the handler are visibly different. If we wanted, we could compare these two images and think about changing times and views about animal welfare, but I’d rather think about old photos versus new photos.

My photo taken in 2020 is not the best. The pattern detail on the snake is clearer than the monkey fur. What is really clear are the edges of the people, the chairs, and the stones in the wall, while the background architecture in the 1941 photo is a bit fuzzy. But look at the creases in the clothing in each photo, there’s not much difference.

One particular function we now have in cameras is indoor photography. Even amateurs like I am can simply put the camera on the automatic setting and it adjusts everything according to the light. But in the 1940s most photos taken by the soldiers who were sent to Egypt (like my father who owned the photo), were taken outdoors. The camera he used was probably the Kodak Brownie box camera that I now have (but don’t use). In fact, every one of my father’s photos in this old album was taken outdoors. And any photos that do show interiors seem to be taken from outside the door, looking in, for example in this mosque.

I think this particular old photo of the performing monkey and its handlers is more interesting than the new one, probably because there are enough characters and action to make colour irrelevant.

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Published by Trish

Literary translator

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