Photographs and Families in We Bought a Zoo and Our Zoo

  • Michael Lawrence
Part of the Screening Spaces book series (SCSP)

In his influential essay ‘Why Look at Animals?’—originally published as ‘Why Zoos Disappoint’ in 1977—John Berger deploys a photographic simile to suggest the ‘impossibility’ of meaningful encounters with animals in zoos: ‘in the zoo’ he writes ‘the view is always wrong. Like an image out of focus’ (2009: 30, 33). For Berger, when animals were ‘withdrawn from daily life’, our relations with them changed: pets notwithstanding, animals were ‘co-opted into the family and into the spectacle’ as children’s toys and commercial images and the zoo became ‘an epitaph’ to man’s former relationship with animals, where ‘adults take children ... to show them the originals of their “reproductions”’ (30, 25, 33, emphasis in the original).

On a more literal level, photographs have always been central both to the promotion of zoos to the public and to visitors’ experiences in zoos. In 1935 Julian Huxley established Pet’s Corner (which became the Children’s Zoo in 1938) at the London Zoo in order to...

Works Citied

  1. Berger, John (2009), Why Look at Animals? (London: Penguin).Google Scholar
  2. Bradshaw, Peter (2012), ‘We Bought a Zoo’, Guardian, 15 March,
  3. Dunaway, Finis (2000), ‘Hunting with the Camera: Nature Photography, Manliness, and Modern Memory, 1890-1930’, Journal of American Studies, Vol. 34 no. 2 (August), pp. 207–30CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Garrigue, Jean (1992), Selected Poems (Urbana and Chicaho: University of Illinois Press)Google Scholar
  5. Hallman, Bonnie C. and S. Mary P. Benbow (2007), ‘Family Leisure, Family Photogaphy and Zoos: Exploring the Emotional Geographies of Families’, Social & Cultural Geography, Vol. 8 no. 6, pp. 871–88CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Hirsch, Marianne (1997), Family Frames: Photography, Narrative and Postmemory (Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press)Google Scholar
  7. Horowitz, Helen Lefkowitz (1981), ‘Seeing Ourselves through the Bars: A Historical Tour of American Zoos’, Landscape, Vol. 25 no. 2, pp. 12–9Google Scholar
  8. Johns, June (1974 [1969]), Zoo Without Bars: The Story of Chester Zoo and its Founder George Saul Mottershead (London: Carousel Books)Google Scholar
  9. Kemp, Philip (2012), ‘We Bought a Zoo’, Observer, 18 March,
  10. Malamud, Randy (1998), Reading Zoos: Representations of Animals and Captivity (Hampshire and London: Macmillan)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Malamud, Randy (2012), An Introduction to Animals and Visual Culture (New York: Palgrave Macmillan)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Marvin, Garry (2006), ‘Acting the Part: Being a Zoo Animal,’ in Yasmeen Baig-Clifford (ed.), Richard Billingham: Zoo (Birmingham: Vivid), pp. 114–21Google Scholar
  13. Mee, Benjamin (2008), We Bought a Zoo (London: Harper Collins)Google Scholar
  14. Mottershead, June, with Penelope Dening (2014), Our Zoo: The Real Story of My Life at Chester Zoo (London: Headline)Google Scholar
  15. Ryan, James R. (2000), ‘“Hunting with the Camera”: Photography, Wildlife and Colonialism in Africa’, in Chris Philo and Chris Wilbert (eds.), Animal Spaces, Beastly Places: New Geographies of Human-Animal Relations (London and New York: Routledge), pp. 182–202Google Scholar
  16. Salter, Jessica (2012), ‘We Bought a Zoo: the true story behind the film,’ Telegraph, 3 March, behind-the-film.htmlGoogle Scholar
  17. Steinhart, E. I. (1989), ‘Hunters, Poachers and Gamekeepers: Towards a Social History of Hunting in Colonial Kenya’, Journal of African History, Vol. 30, pp. 247–64CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Storey, William K. (1991), ‘Big Cats and Imperialism: Lion and Tiger Hunting in Kenya and Northern India, 1898-1930’, Journal of World History, Vol. 2 no. 2, pp. 135–73Google Scholar
  19. Therkelsen, Annette and Maria Lottrup (2015), ‘Being Together at the Zoo: Zoo Experiences Among Families with Children’, Leisure Studies, Vol. 34 no. 3, pp. 354–71CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Thorpe, Vanessa (2012), ‘Dartmoor Zoo gets Hollywood’s Animal Magic’, Guardian, 22 January: Scholar
  21. Turley, Sophie K. (2001), ‘Children and the Demand for Recreational Experiences: The Case of Zoos,’ Leisure Studies, Vol. 20 no. 1, pp. 1–18CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Willis, Sharon (1999), ‘Looking at the Zoo,’ South Atlantic Quarterly, Vol. 98 no. 4 (Fall), pp. 669–87Google Scholar
  23. Uddin, Lisa (2015), Zoo Renewal: White Flight and the Animal Ghetto (Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press)CrossRefGoogle Scholar


  1. La Jetée (Chris Marker, France, 1962)Google Scholar
  2. Our Zoo (Andy De Emmony, Robert McKillop, Saul Metzstein, UK, 2014)Google Scholar
  3. We Bought a Zoo (Cameron Crowe, US)Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael Lawrence
    • 1
  1. 1.School of Media, Film and MusicUniversity of SussexBrightonUK

Personalised recommendations