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Found Portraits from Indonesia's Wildlife Trade
The photos in this series are taken from adverts posted on online Indonesian pet marketplaces, where alongside the more common exotic pets, wild animals from the forests of Sumatra and Java are openly sold. Indonesia’s wildlife laws are hazy and often poorly enforced, with only endangered species being offered some semblance of protection. Away from the international wildlife charity campaigns and government-issued fatwas, the illegal trafficking of wild animals is strikingly mundane, and with the help of social media, apparently booming, with hundreds of new listings every day.
These photographs of spectacularly exotic creatures are contrasted with the homely backdrops: kitchens, motorbikes and piles of homework. Animals out of context, atop Angry Birds bedlinen or ornate wooden furniture, posed with cigarette lighters or masking tape for a very domestic sense of scale. The occasional intrusion of the seller’s arm, leg, friends, family - or a proud exotic selfie - betrays a strange intimacy with trappers and traders who are often no more than teenagers. Animals are posed with children, with motorbikes and guitars, with girlfriends, with a mother accidentally passing through the back of the cell phone photograph. Through these backdrops and details - bedrooms, clothing and anonymous grasping hands - each image reveals a little of who the human behind the animal is.
Large reptiles, and birds of prey are the most frequently advertised, followed by the cute and unusual - sugar gliders, baby monkeys, leopard cat kittens and civets. A number of non-indigenous species, particularly common captive reptiles, are also available. Despite the high level campaigns to protect the country's most vulnerable animals, endangered species appear all too frequently - sun bears, pangolins, slow loris, silvery gibbons - commanding the expected enormous prices.
Profit aside, the desire to capture, collect and live alongside these animals appear for the most part to be status driven - animals are advertised alongside guns, knives, t-shirts of pitbulls, large jewelled rings. Snakes appear to sell better if they’re pictured in the process of devouring a mouse.
And it’s the barter element of the marketplaces that provides the true, surreal marker of the considered worth of each animal, and perhaps its place within the teenage psyche - a 90cm monitor lizard is offered in exchange for a baby reticulated python or an acoustic-electro guitar (fender or ibanez), or an android phone. Rarer species on the other hand, can command an entire Korg Keyboard, or vice versa. Budding musician, or dilettante animal collector, the hobbies and objects are interchangeable. In successfully capturing a single individual, or if you’re lucky, an entire nest or litter, you can furnish yourself with all the desirable electronic items one might need for contemporary life.
The journey from the rainforest to the teenage bedroom, while entirely condemnable, is fascinating. Despite the distressing predicaments of the animals, there is something compelling in these accidental portraits of very wild beings in transit, and the humans in their company. Amateur photography of amateur exotic pet keeping, and a reminder that as incongruous as it seems, animals exist in these spheres of mundanity also.
Bukit Binatang /2014
NO MINUS, NO HISSING, NO ONE MAN , NO DEFENNSE
Found Portraits From Indonesia's Wildlife Trade
20 page newspaper, 2014