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REMUS

by

Harry Buschman

The following story was written for the Photographic Federation of New York and published in 1990.

Remus is a macaque monkey, and like most macaques, he is very intelligent. He responds readily to his name and is completely unaware of his simian status. He is therefore free of the inhibitions that govern the behavior of humans.

Remus is an excellent photographer, better than many humans are, and much better than other macaques. His trainer, Professor Franklin, the noted animal behaviorist, gave him a Polaroid camera when he was young and Remus enjoyed taking pictures of his friends and relatives. He would carefully follow the numbers printed on the camera and wait for the picture to emerge. When it did, he would look at it carefully and paste it in his album right side up family on one side friends on the other, he knew who was who and who wasn't.

As he grew older, Remus began taking pictures of things other than macaques. The ducks and frogs that inhabited his small compound were willing subjects for his ever-ready Polaroid, and because he was a creature of the wild, they trusted him and showed no fear. His trainer was impressed with his results and took him on a trip to Yellowstone Park, and there Remus took many pictures of the geysers and abundant natural wonders. Remus understood nothing of these wonders, but was pleased with his results as they popped out of his Polaroid and his trainer rewarded him with fresh fruit for his accomplishments, and on occasion, permitted him to use his very own Nikon.

Upon their return his trainer introduced Remus to a camera club and its members were happy to accept him as an equal after viewing his results in Yellowstone. Remus took part in their exhibits and competitions and won many ribbons and plaques for his efforts. His entries were sent on to the Photographic Society of America and entered in national and international contests.

Remus was not fully aware of his impact on the world of amateur photography, but he was delighted with the colorful ribbons the club showered on him and the endless accolades that rained on him from prestigious nationwide photographic organizations. In spite of his status as a simian he was eventually elected president of his club and his expertise was sought by many members. It may seem strange that club members would seek advice from a macaque, but all of them shared an almost child-like hope that with his help they too might take pictures as good as he did.

In his role as a teacher he fell somewhat short of expectations. He tried to explain with grunts and bared incisors, but a gulf of communication separated teacher and student. He was, after all, incoherent, short of stature and experienced great difficulty in the rationalization of photographic philosophy. Some members profited from what little knowledge he was able to convey, others feared him. Had Remus been able to explain that he took pictures that happened to be there when he was, the problem might have been avoided. To make matters worse, everybody in his club and the Photographic Society of America eventually traveled to Yellowstone too, and as you might suspect, they returned with pictures every bit as beautiful as those of Remus.

Denied the freedom of movement that humans enjoy, Remus was cut off from contact with these natural wonders. His photography went downhill and he was no longer a role model. His advice was rarely solicited, and his unique abilities were thwarted. Professor Franklin suspected he was undergoing a mild case of "photographer's block", and exposed him to the work of Henri-Cartier Bresson and Edward Steichen, hoping this would rekindle his creativity. The alternative, of course, was to put him back in his cage.

"Photographer's Block" is a more serious condition for a macaque than it is for a human. Humans have other outlets and diversions, while Remus' only claim to distinction was his unique ability to take pictures of wherever he happened to be. The alternatives, open to all of us in the higher branches of the family tree were not available to him. He was born to photograph, and now that the natural wonders of the world were denied to him, his viewfinder was blank. Studying the works of Cartier-Bresson and Steichen did nothing for him. Even the prints of Ansel Adams, who photographed nothing but natural wonders, left him cold. He was interested in what he did, not what others did. He tried to reintroduce his former winners in competition at his club, but they had already won ribbons and medals and he was rebuffed from doing so by the club's competition committee. He shrieked and bared his formidable incisors but it had little effect other than alienating him further from the other membe
rs.

An emergency board meeting was called and the directors deliberated the problem of Remus. They contemplated asking Professor Franklin to take him back to Yellowstone, the Tetons or Yosemite so he could stock up on the abundant natural wonders, or perhaps leave him there. But Professor Franklin had other fish to fry. He had a new grant to fulfill and scientific papers to write. He was working with a rhesus, named "Pearl", who had developed an ability to sing and dance; he couldn't waste his time on Remus. If Remus wanted to go out west he could damn well go on his own. After all, he was eight years old, the equivalent of a man in his forties.

The trouble was Remus could do very little on his own he needed supervision. He couldn't make reservations or order from a menu. Even buying film was out of the question; he had been thrown out of the 47th Street Camera store for not waiting his turn, even though he tried to disguise himself by wearing a yarmulke. He had severely bitten the machine operator at the 60-minute shop when he discovered one of his prints was missing.

His club was in a quandary. On one hand they realized they were fortunate to have the only macaque in camera club history, and on the other, he was a menace. Time and again he would embarrass guest speakers by throwing fecal matter at them, and on competition nights he would have to be chained to his seat.

One member of the club came up with a suggestion. His name was Art Calendar. Calendar had recently submitted four hundred almost identical sunsets in competition and was regarded in high esteem by the club, he even wore a smoking jacket made of his first-place ribbons. Calendar was quite friendly with the sales manager of the Eastern District of Eastman-Kodak and thought he could convince him of Remus' potential as a sales tool. E-K had spent millions persuading the public that the most illiterate clod could take great pictures and Remus could prove it. Just take him out to Yosemite, let him loose with his equipment and throw a net over him when he was done.

Eastman-Kodak weighed the proposition and eventually accepted. The club was glad to wash their hands of Remus. Now they could get back to the more important job of dueling with each other for preeminence in the photography of natural wonders. His trainer was off the hook also, "Pearl" was in final rehearsals of a Broadway revival of "Evita."

For old times sake, if nothing else, the whole club trooped out to Kennedy Airport to see him board the special Kodak chartered flight 999 to Yosemite. Remus was issued a 2 1/4 x 2 1/4 Bronica, a rock steady tripod and more film than a human might use in a life-time. When they arrived, the E-K staff dutifully took Remus' picture in a specially fitted safari suit of bright yellow and E-K cap of bright red and sent him on his way.

A week went by. The E-K staff was sure Remus could fend for himself in the wild, living off nuts and berries and spending his nights in the crotches of lodge pole pines and cottonwoods. But they grew restive when one week became two and then three. The home office back in Rochester grew restive too as the expense accounts piled up at the local Taco Bell and the Yosemite Sam Motel. "Let's cut our losses", they grumbled, and unfeeling as it may seem the E-K staff was ordered home leaving Remus to roam the natural wonders of Yosemite alone.

Occasionally the heartless behavior of corporate giants can be a blessing in disguise. Remus was content. His only threat was the occasional mountain lion and grizzly, and his fleetness of foot combined with his small size made him hardly worth the chasing. Better pickings could be found among the overweight tourists and the Taco Bell's garbage cans. Remus had film enough for a life-time, food a-plenty and the natural wonders nourished his soul. He would trudge back to town once a week to have his slides processed by a near-sighted and corrupt old photographer who duplicated his best efforts and sold them under the name of Gaston Macaque to tourists at inflated prices. It was a living, and unquestionably a better living than Remus and his macaque brethren are born to expect. He was smack dab in the middle of a life-long supply natural wonders, a place he always wanted to be.

Today, equipment laden camera club members arriving in Yosemite in overcrowded buses each summer jostle for position at every photo-op and if they are alert they will occasionally spot him in his colorful outfit darting over the countryside. He is hardly noticed, however, for their eyes are focused on the natural wonders about them and a three foot macaque in a yellow safari suit is not what they came to see.

The pictures they take are no better or worse than his, and if they were all put in a pile, no one could honestly choose which was their own. You love yours, I love mine just as devotedly as Remus loves his, and Yosemite doesn't give a damn one way or the other. But it is surprising how many wives of these visiting photographers lined up at the souvenir counters of Yosemite looking for jade earrings and Indian artifacts find it difficult to resist the photographs displayed by that great French landscape photographer, Gaston Macaque.

HARRY BUSCHMAN 1990

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