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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
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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