In Elephant House, photographer Dick Blau and historian Nigel Rothfels offer a thought-provoking study of the Oregon Zoo's Asian Elephant Building and the daily routines of its residents – human and pachyderm alike. Without an agenda beyond a desire to build a deeper understanding of this enigmatic environment, Elephant House is the result of the authors' unique creative collaboration and explores the relationships between captive elephants and their human caregivers.
Blau's evocative photographs are complex and challenging, while Rothfels's text offers a scholarly and personal response to the questions that surround elephants and captivity. Elephant House does not take sides in the debate over zoos but focuses instead on the bonds of attentiveness between the animals and their keepers. Accompanied by a foreword from retired elephant keeper Mike Keele, Elephant House is a frank, fascinating look at the evolving world of elephant husbandry.
"You think you know all there is to know about elephants in captivity? Think again. Setting aside the familiar screeds and sentiments, Dick Blau and Nigel Rothfels offer a deep, multidimensional, and nuanced understanding of our relationship to zoo elephants, one that will challenge the animal rights critic and zoo advocate alike. The wonder and sadness evoked by the checkered history of elephant exhibition, the difference and commonality that bind these majestic animals to the people who care for them – it's all here. You may not change your mind about the keeping of elephants in captivity after reading this book, but you'll see the fuller picture. And it will be impossible to come away from Elephant House unmoved."
– Ben A. Minteer, Arizona State University
"These photographs are mesmerizing [...] Blau's photographs do not return us to a state of innocence with these animals. While the tenderness with which they are cared for is clear and their alert intelligence undeniable, these images haunt us because they forcefully convey how different this consciousness is from our own. Their intelligence, together with their beauty and magnificence, for a brief moment relieves us of our egoistical insistence on our imagined primacy as a species."
– Tom Knechtel, Artillery
Photographs by Dick Blau
List of Photographs
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Dick Blau, a photographer and filmmaker, is a coauthor of Skyros Carnival, Bright Balkan Morning, and Polka Happiness, three photo-ethnographies that look at the transformative power of music and dance. His work on familial emotion is featured in Jane Gallop's Living with His Camera, readings in the theory of domestic photography.
Nigel Rothfels is a historian of animals and culture. He is the author of Savages and Beasts: The Birth of the Modern Zoo, which examines the origins of naturalistic displays in zoos; the editor of Representing Animals, a foundational interdisciplinary collection in the field of animal studies; and the editor of Animalibus, Penn State Press’s scholarly series about animals and culture.