Street photography project by Jill Maguire
This project started in early 2014 as a project to find a project. I wasn’t satisfied with the street photography I’d been doing haphazardly around Seattle. My work had no cohesion and was completely out of the league of the masters I’d been studying. Frustrated, I started visiting a different event or location each weekend, knowing a project would eventually find me. I just kept exploring until I found a place I wanted to revisit. That place was Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo.
Initially, the zoo checked a lot of boxes for me — easy parking, open year-round, visitors from all walks of life. But the zoo quickly became special to me. I got to know the animals and their keepers, and I learned about habitat destruction, poaching, and conservation. And then a few geriatric animals passed away, birthdays were celebrated, and babies were born. I was hooked.
The challenge for me photographically was finding a unique vision without copying the work of fellow zoo-goers like Garry Winogrand and Rebecca Norris Webb. So I just started looking for interesting moments that involved people and animals, trusting that a theme would eventually emerge. In fact, it was Rebecca and Alex Webb who, during a workshop, started pulling together my prints where the animals mimicked the people and the landscape, or the people acted like animals, or the animals and people weren’t quite what they seemed. I’m grateful for their insight to help me narrow my focus to those rare moments of serendipitous similarity.
Along the way, I found I work well within the confines of a single location. I tried visiting other zoos and came away empty-handed. It just wasn’t practical for me to travel to other zoos like Rebecca did for The Glass Between Us, so I gave myself permission not to. Besides, I’m too anxious in new places. I like familiarity, and this zoo is my zoo. It provides a long and varied punch list of animals and habitats to photograph, and going back year after year has taught me the rhythm of the visitors, the animals, and the light.
As I write this, it’s mid-November in Seattle, and it’s raining a lot (my kryptonite), so I have to psych myself up for shooting in the rain at the zoo’s annual Turkey Toss this weekend. I want to visit Pete, their oldest gorilla (who lost his mate Nina last year) and check in on baby gorilla Yola, who turns 1 soon. Did they ever find a new mate for Sam the siamang after Briony passed away? I’ll find one of the volunteers to ask. And I haven’t heard the final count of penguin chicks hatched this summer. I’ll stick around til 2pm for the penguin keeper talk. I may or may not get a good picture while I’m there.
Jill Maguire is a Seattle-based street photographer who divides her time between the Woodland Park Zoo, dog events, and the Washington State Fair.