About the Photographer
American, b. 1958
Between 1997 and 2006 Frank Noelker photographed in zoos throughout the United States to create the series Zoo Portraits, which depicts a range of animals within their simulated environments. Whether his subject is leopard lying in front of a painted backdrop, a monkey crouched on the rudimentary forms that mimic its home terrain, or a tapir pacing in a pen that resembles a jail cell, Noelker centers the animal in the middle of the image, facing the camera, as if it were posing for a formal portrait. "It is my goal to pay homage to the animals," Noelker states, "as they endure the dark dignities of captivity—living out their days with no hope of ever experiencing the freedom of their natural habitats." Noelker acknowledges the role zoos play in promoting conservation and public awareness of issues confronting animals in the wild, but he is also deeply interested in the complex issues raised by their captivity. Documenting the animals in relation to their surroundings and yielding unexpectedly expressive portraits, Noekler's photographs are conceived as an exercise in empathy and as a lens through which viewers might consider their own notions of freedom.
Noelker completed a BA in sociology at Webster University, St. Louis (1988) and an MFA in photography at the Rhode Island School of Design (1991). Since 1991 he has taught at the School of Fine Arts, University of Connecticut. Noelker donates the proceeds from this body of work to the Jane Goodall Institute for Wildlife Research, Education, and Conservation.