PHOTOGRAPHY: Jill Greenberg Groks the Monkey

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From Monkey Portraits
From Monkey Portraits
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New from Bulfinch Press is Monkey Portraits, a $24.99 hardcover from noted celeb portraitist Jill Greenberg, who, indeed, has turned her lens on monkeys as well as apes (there's an asterisk on the title, in fact, which is paid off on the back cover with the addition of And Some Apes — you can't give these big fellas short shrift). But no animal gets short shrift in this book, which, after all, puts monkeys in the studio as if they were people — and they practically are. As Greenberg notes in the introduction, their expressions are so human and their intelligence so obvious, "I realized I had discovered a new subject, one perfect for social commentary. These animals' expressions allow an interpretation that can be perceived as passing judgment on the behavior of their genetic cousins."

The project began by chance after Greenberg shot an ad job featuring a small white capuchin named Katie, who was dressed in pink striped bloomers while banging pots and pans at a tea party with two little girls. This eventually had to be reshot with a toy poodle because the client thought the monkey looked "too menacing," but Greenberg went on to do a studio portrait of Katie, and continued to photograph "more monkeys and apes whenever I had a chance or felt financially free enough to lay out the funds for these animal actors, with their attendant trainers and handlers." The five-year project involved more than 30 primates, who "have resonated with me in different ways, but what became apparent as I was making my selections after each shoot was that I was attracted to the images where the subjects appeared almost human, expressing emotions and using gestures I thought were reserved only for people." Greenberg, a distinctive digital enhancer whose website is, notes, "Of course, with primates I don't have to be concerned with making sure they look 'beautiful' or retouching them to appear flawless. They are us and the opposite of us at the same time since they share none of our cultural constraints on behavior or appearance."

In addition, a "Monkey Portraits" exhibition opens tonight, Oct. 12, at ClampArt ( in New York, 521 W. 25th St., with a book signing from 6-8 p.m. The show runs through Nov. 11. Some images from the book are seen here. Click here for more info.

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