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A Brief History of Photography by Monkeys

Rob Walker
Tech Columnist
Yahoo Tech


In Bali, this “hilarious monkey” grabbed some guy’s GoPro camera and proceeded to take an impressive selfie. The monkey’s photography has lately been making the rounds.

No disrespect to this monkey, but the fact of the matter is, this is only the latest development in what might be considered the burgeoning history of non-human primate photography.

In 2011, a surreally photogenic black macaque in Indonesia borrowed photographer David Slater’s camera and took what to my mind remains the most supreme monkey self-portraiture on record.

Unfortunately, the quality of the resulting works was somewhat overshadowed by Slater’s attempt to claim copyright on the images, undermining the monkey’s rightful authorship. But that’s another story.

Moreover, in terms of recognition from the art world and the high-end auction culture that helps determine the marketplace value of images that circulate in that world, neither of these admirable monkeys can claim the status of Mikki the chimpanzee.

For starters, Mikki has a name. A veteran of the Moscow circus, he was recruited by artists Komar and Melamid in the late 1990s and, after some practice with a Polaroid, was given the opportunity to photograph Moscow with a large-format analog camera.

A batch of images taken by Mikki (and of the artists working with him) sold last year at a Sotheby’s auction for about $78,000. This made Mikki “the de facto king of the ape photography world,” in the judgment of photography blog PetaPixel, and I would say that title still holds.  

Write to me at rwalkeryn@yahoo.com (although I’ll just answer your question right now: Yes, I get paid to do this), or find me on Twitter, @notrobwalker. The RSS feed for my columns and posts is right here.