The vast majority of my work shows African wildlife. However, for years I’ve been longing to complete the “Big 3 of primates”. And though gorillas and chimpanzees are relatively easily found on the African continent, the last one is arguably more difficult. So this is why I found myself completely off the grid and social media for a couple of weeks, traveling across Asia in search of Orangutans...
Orangutans are visually expressive. Probably more than any other primate or even animal. Their expression is so humanlike that we can relate to them in a rather unprecedented way. They are just like us - some say even more than chimpanzees. According to studies from Pittsburg University, humans share at least 28 unique physical characteristics with orangutans but only 2 with chimps and 7 with gorillas. The orangutan genome hasn't changed in 15 million years. To put that in some perspective, our species didn't even really exist until 200,000 years ago. These facts put our evolutionary tail in another perspective.
The natural habitat of these creatures is rapidly dissolving, along with their future. Borneo’s ecosystem has been well documented. Due to palm oil production - 85% of the forrest is gone due to palm oil harvesters. Nearly 50 years of conservation efforts have been unable to prevent orangutan numbers on Borneo from plummeting. Reports suggest that between 1999 and 2015 the total number of Bornean orangutans was reduced by more than 100,000 animals.
All these facts aside, the location where these big apes can be found is consolidated within imposing rainforests. It’s visually intoxicating and feels like the final frontier; half “Jurassic Park” and half “Predator”. Humidity is so high, three hours could as very well be as demanding as a whole day. The jungle is difficult to get a shot out in the open which tends to suit your character and your traits.
The best images tend to be simple rather than having a visual overload. A great photograph needs to make you feel something. This is why I want mine to be simple. Monochrome doesn’t only suit this style; the subject has to thug on the heart. All an extra challenge due to the thick canopy of the jungle. I didn’t expected to get this shot. You can’t tell from the back of your camera if the image stacks up to these requirements and convey an emotional reaction.
“Fine art” typically passes the test of time as the image has outgrown its artist. And this couldn’t be more true for these species. The future of orangutans is fading at a fast pace and this is a picture the world needs to see. I can’t be held responsible for the declining habitat of these primates. My responsibility lies in photographs like “Generations”. Hopefully it serves as a call to arms for conservationists.
Jochen van Dijk