Monkey Island in Homosassa, FL is home to several spider monkeys who were used to perfect the polio vaccine. After being as test subjects, the monkeys were sold in the 60’s to a tourist attraction. They were always escaping and getting into cars, stealing candy and biting tourists, so the owner decided to build an island to solve this problem, modelling his design on Alcatraz prison. A natural aversion to water keeps the monkeys on the island despite its close proximity to land.
Although they are well-fed, cared for and free from cages, I was struck by the absurdity of detaining monkeys on an island modeled after a maximum security, human prison. I spent many days photographing them by boat and was startled by how much the monkeys reminded me of humans in both play and territorial aggression. The experience brought to mind the final scene in Werner Herzog’s film Aguirre, the Wrath of God, when the last surviving conquistador looses all his men (due to greed and underestimating the perils of the jungle) and meets his death on a sinking raft filled with monkeys.
The project is ongoing and has expanded beyond Monkey Island to a broader questioning of the condition of being both human and animal.