The Columns

We Saw A Zoo

— by on January 11th, 2016

Charles Mason, a 1984 graduate of Washington and Lee University, is known as “the Alaska guy who doesn’t take pictures of Alaska.” A photojournalism professor at University of Alaska Fairbanks, he prefers to travel and is particularly known for his wildlife photography. In 1998 he won the Oskar Barnack Award from World Press Photo for his work in that area.

His latest solo exhibition at Alaska Pacific University, “Zoo Show,” features living animals, but not wildlife. As described in the Alaska Dispatch News, the exhibition includes images taken at zoos around America, but many of the subjects are not the animals, but those looking at the animals.

“Zoo” began at the Alaska Zoo, when Charles took a picture of a two-hump camel. “Just the humps. That’s the way I shoot.” During his travels, when he often visited zoos, he began thinking about the series more seriously, collecting photos from more than a dozen trips.

“If you love zoos, you will see things that make you love zoos more,” said Richard Murphy, former photo editor for the Anchorage Daily News, now a colleague of Mason’s at UAF. “If you hate zoos, you’ll see things that make you hate them more.”

Charles’ work has appeared in LIFE, Time, Newsweek, Outside, Aperture, The New York Times and GEO. He also has published two children’s books, including the award-winning “A Child’s Alaska.” Other books include collaborations with writer Jennifer Brice (“The Last Settlers,” a black-and-white documentary project on the last federal homesteaders); writer Patti Clayton (“Connection on the Ice,” about the 1988 Barrow, Alaska, whale rescue); and writer Sherry Simpson (“The Way Winter Comes,” cover and illustrations).