To capture zoo animals on camera, German photographer Manuela Kulpa has coordinated a delicate dance of reality and imagination, timing and patience to secure the ideal moment. Each photograph is the result of hours of watching and waiting for the animal to turn its head toward her at just the right moment or emote something that resonates universally.
In her ongoing series “African Souls,” Kulpa photographs animals in captivity across zoos in Germany, The Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, and the Czech Republic, among others. But she does so in a way that makes them appear as though they are free and wild creatures, roaming in their natural habitats. The title of her series takes its name from Kulpa’s dream of visiting Africa. But having been unable to travel to the continent and its kingdom of animals, Kulpa instead ventured to zoos across Europe that housed them. The concept shows Kulpa’s reverence for animals as “the series was created due to my respectful love for the animals and out of curiosity about their mysterious personalities.”
Long regarded as a space where people can interact with wildlife they may not otherwise have a chance of seeing, and from a safe distance maintained by glass walls and metal bars, public zoos have been criticized by animal rights and protection agencies, such as PETA and the Captive Animals Protection Society, as places that could potentially pose a threat to the lifestyle and overall well-being of animals that need to be in the wild. Kulpa’s striking images aim to draw attention to animals’ need for environmental protection, welfare, and survival. Kulpa explains:
“The animal and its individuality are at the heart of my way of finding my pictures. I want to place gracefulness and expressiveness of our fellow creatures in the foreground to show that animals are sentient beings. On one hand zoos can make contributions to preserving biodiversity. On the other hand we are often asking ourselves how the correct animal housing and handling of their care can be guaranteed by zoos. Animal welfare and health, as well as endangered species protection, is a very big subject.”