Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Self-Pic and Primates

So, I've been fascinated for the last week or so by this picture. It's a self-portrait. The macaque took this smiling picture of herself. Sure, one could use this to start a conversation about authorship of a photograph, as some have.

What engages me, though, is the expression. The practice. The photo fits so many of the genre formulas of the self-pic. That this monkey can reproduce recognizable codes without apparent access to knowledge of and intent to produce a photograph matters little (to me, anyway). This is what we do with cameras (or stinky whir boxes that flash and go click). I prefer those pictures where we forget we're making pictures, anyway.

So here I look into the eyes of a non-human Other and see something recognizable. Rather than being freaked out by the "uncanny" (as if the macaque is a strangely animated thing), I see joy and wonder. And a big toothy smile.

When we aren't treating our primate cousins as nuisances or exotic entertainment, we amuse ourselves with stories of their vengeful rise to power. How much nicer it is to look into the eyes of the Other and encounter both similarity and alterity. If our guilt (so few species have really benefitted from associating with us) leads us to fear, that is at least understandable. But I think regret is better than fear -- regret for the missed opportunities. What vacations, parties, rituals, or adventures might we have shared, with or without the camera?

In this case, it's all about what makes you smile.

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