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.