Daniel Kukla makes it a point to visit local zoos whenever he travels, and photographed enclosures across America and Europe for Captive Landscapes.

The chasm between natural world and man-made habitat is quite clear in the series.

Most of the photos are devoid of life, as he scheduled his visits for when the animals were out of the enclosure or a new exhibit was being installed.

Most of the photos are devoid of life, as he scheduled his visits for when the animals were out of the enclosure or a new exhibit was being installed.

There was a strange consistency between the scenic murals found in habitats across the globe.

There was a strange consistency between the scenic murals found in habitats across the globe.

Elements like a door in the middle of a tropical scene make the enclosure all the more surreal.

Elements like a door in the middle of a tropical scene make the enclosure all the more surreal.

Elements like a door in the middle of a tropical scene make the enclosure all the more surreal.

Elements like a door in the middle of a tropical scene make the enclosure all the more surreal.

Elements like a door in the middle of a tropical scene make the enclosure all the more surreal.

Elements like a door in the middle of a tropical scene make the enclosure all the more surreal.

Co.Design

A Peek Inside The Sad And Artificial World Of Zoo Habitats

Daniel Kukla’s Captive Landscapes captures animal enclosures in a dozen cities worldwide.

Zoos are inherently bizarre. The sheer thrill of seeing strange and exotic beasts is often tempered by the reality of the strange and artificial environments they’re kept in, raising the question: Can they really be happy hanging out in those habitats? Photographer Daniel Kukla makes a point of visiting zoos as often as possible on his travels, documenting his findings in Captive Landscapes.

“I believe that zoos have the ability to function as incredible research and educational institutions, but more often than not, the animals are put on as a spectacle and the educational aspect seems to be lacking. I always leave feeling a mix of awe and depression from these places,” he tells Co.Design. His series spans these “theatrical environments” in 12 locales across America and Europe, most of which he shot through a window or door from the same vantage point viewers would get when they visit.

Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the images are the floor-to-ceiling scenic murals that adorn the walls, depicting everything from rocky coasts to lush tropics in an unexpectedly consistent style. And there’s one thing that’s conspicuously, surprisingly absent from the majority of these pictures: life. “Sometimes I planned my visit when the animals would be out of the enclosure, or as a new exhibit was being installed,” he says. “Generally, the enclosures are kept closed with minimal outside contact to ensure that the animals are not exposed to any form of human disease or foreign microbes.” The collection is a far cry from the crystal-clear perspectives Kukla captured in his Edge Effect series from southern California’s Joshua Tree; side by side, they show the disparity between man-made and Mother-Nature-made refuges in sharp relief.

(H/T Triangulation Blog)

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8 Comments

  • Shadeymilkman449

    If you ask me, Zoo animals have it easy.  There are worst fates.  Nature is far more cruel.

  • Brady J. Frey

    I don't disagree with the substandard of most zoos (or the paradigm), but I have seen a few that put a great emphasis on education and conservation. When I worked for academystudios.com on museum exhibits, their team of experts would fly to the natural habitat location for exacting research and replication. I'd meet folks who spent their lives dedicated to safety of some of these animals, and often looked at zoos as an outreach center for public involvement.

    So while I think this exploration brings to light many concerns, it's a narrow and cosmetic perspective. Most of them depress the hell out of me, but they aren't without their academic and caring angles.

  • Robyn kadis

    Zoos have to be the most depressing places in the world. Some are well managed and the animals live a somewhat passable existence but many are shockingly lacking in every basic need for the animal and are purely there for human "entertainment", and this is the majority of them. No wild animal deserves to be locked up in a cage or even an enclosure, purely for human pleasure. There are other means of "education" without depriving a wild animal of its natural habitat and life.

  • Brenda Malone

    I wish that zoos would be limited to one per state. They are disgusting prisons for wild animals. With all of the technology we have today, view online, live shows of animals in the wild.

    I do not support zoos. Period. (And as for "SeaWorld", don't even get me started.

  • ian harris

    For a counter point to the obviously terrible settings which are shown in these images there are many zoos that attempt to create "natural" environments for their animals while also showcasing them as ambassadors to the viewing public for their species in the wild. We recently produced a video on the great design work being done by the landscape architecture firm, CLR Design with their partners at the Denver, Dallas and Philadelphia zoos. Please check out the video for an uplifting look into the very exciting and positive work being done in contemporary zoos: https://vimeo.com/49602875

  • ian harris

    There are zoo exhibits that are designed extremely which attempt to create as "natural" as possible characteristics in their animals while also enabling the public to see these animals as ambassadors for their wild species. The reason I say this is because we recently produced a video on the work of landscape architecture design firm CLR which highlights some of the inspiring work they are doing along with the amazing zoos in Denver, Dallas and Philadelphia. You can see it here as a solid counter point to the obviously terrible settings shown above: https://vimeo.com/49602875

  • Michael Aldridge

    I agree completely with the article, there is something missing from most zoo's that really leaves you feeling sorry for the animals. I suppose this will always be the case to an extent but can be acceptable if the educational, conservation and research is strong enough. Steve Irwin's zoo in Australia is an example of one of these, having visited I really felt the zoo was a modern take on the concept, really educating the public and giving the animals the most enriched life possible. Maybe other zoo's should work on that template...