CNN Photos

Animal house

Seeing a wild animal behind a barrier at a zoo or from a distance on a safari is one thing, but feet away, in a studio?

Photographer Brad Wilson, who typically takes portraits of people, chose to challenge himself with animal portraits. His subjects came from zoos or conservations, and he set up shop wherever was most convenient from them. His white rhino shoot, for instance, took place in their holding pen at a zoo.

"The camera gives you a false sense of security, you feel like you aren't part of the scene. It's like watching a movie," Wilson said. "But it's false."

Coming back from a break while photographing a white tiger, the tiger was lying in the middle of the studio, and the trainers were several feet behind him, casually chatting. Wilson asked what he should do, and the trainers laughingly said, "Well, don't run."

"It's almost a primal moment when you confront a predator and you're the prey," he said. "You have to be aware of the animal's natural instincts and behave accordingly."

Unlike when he photographed people who he could direct with verbal orders, Wilson had to wait for his subject to move on its own to capture an interesting moment. Wilson focused on the animals' eyes and hoped for direct eye contact, but, generally, the animals honed in on their trainers and didn't pay attention to him. In a four-hour shoot, he might end up with two or three photos of the creature looking at the camera, if even.

Most animals, even those in zoos, can't handle the activity and human contact of a photo shoot.

“Zoos have tons of people going by and taking pictures of the animals, but in a confined space with lighting, it's a very different experience," he said.

The animals were oblivious to Wilson, but being close to the animals affected him.

"There's this other world animals represent, a simple life, a world of present-moment awareness and instinct, a way they live and a way we used to live," Wilson said. "When with them, they pull you into that moment.

"It's very hard to be distracted by your iPhone with a tiger in front of you."

- Lauren Russell, CNN

Wilson's 'Affinity' series will be on display at Affordable Art Fair in Singapore November 21-24.  This is an ongoing project, and a book will be released in German and English next year.