James and Other Apes (#JAPES)

Guest post by James Mollison

As the greenlist for the presale of the #JAPES project opens, James Mollison talks about his journey to realizing this extraordinary collection, which combines the NFT community’s obsession with apes with his portraits of great apes shot over four years and across four continents. Greenlist registration is now open at art3.io/japes ahead of the exclusive drop on OpenSea later this month.

My Name is James Mollison and I’m a British photographer, currently living in Venice. After capturing a chance shot of a gorilla on the very last frame of my roll of film, an incredible journey began. This shot ignited my fascination with capturing these magnificent animals. It also reminded me how fast and how chaotic taking pictures really is. The gorilla was looking right through the lens and right at me, almost into me, and what I saw staring back was very familiarly human. 

This powerful moment acted as a catalyst to ‘James & Other Apes’. A collection of just over 50 passport-style photographs capturing the unique identity of apes from sanctuaries spanning four continents. Since accompanying a solo exhibition at the Natural History Museum in 2004, this collection has been globally observed, both in print and digitally. Now, as my genesis blockchain collection, these intriguing portraits will soon be available as exclusive NFT editions of one. NFTs are a new exciting journey for me as an artist. But this kind of escapade isn’t foreign to me.

Whilst creating the collection I was continuously challenged with feelings of both fear and excitement. I had to quickly learn how to act around the apes in a way that made it clear I wasn’t a threat. I learnt to sit in a submissive manner with my shoulders quite hunched down, and kind of nodding to them, trying to make it clear I was their friend rather than their foe. I’d often have to think on my feet and trial new techniques to gain the trust of these beautifully dominant animals.

One of the first monkeys I photographed was a large chimpanzee from Cameroon called Gino. During my time with Gino, I quickly realised the challenging nature of photographing apes. He had feisty energy but after composing my anxiety, I eventually established that I could use a peanut taped to the end of my lens to encourage the chimp to look into the camera. He loved this game as he continued to snatch peanuts from the top of my lens at the speed of lightning! During my time with Gino I had the opportunity to analyze his face and this caused me to deeply reflect on how similar he was to me.

We think of apes as different species. But, like us, they each have their own individual personalities and characteristics. Genetically, they are incredibly close to us. We are very different from most animals, but monkeys inspire questions about ourselves, because they are so alike us! Working with these apes took me straight back to my childhood. There’s a naughtiness to young apes that reminds me of being a cheeky young boy. They embody the grey area between man and animal and they easily connect with our inner child. To me, having an ape as a way to express who you are, as an avatar, makes perfect sense. 

Except for two, all of the apes I photographed are orphans. For quite a few, their parents had been killed for bushmeat. Sadly, there’s a masculinity belief amongst some groups that eating gorilla meat can make you virile. I hope this collection, at the very least, helps us to truly consider the relationship between man and animal. 

10% of the net proceeds we raise will be donated to the sanctuaries in Africa that rescued these incredible animals and invited me in with my camera. 
For more information about me and the project, and to register for the #JAPES greenlist, please visit art3.io/japes