Sketching the animals was hard - they kept moving as a rule. When I tried to take photographs, I most often as not ended up with terrible blurred results that were almost immediately 'deleted'. I had much more success with recording the fabric of the zoo with the camera. I honed in on the different enclosures, the run of fencing, the gates and the imprint of animal tracks on the concrete pathways. These photos revealed a lot. Not only the rather discordant architecture arising from many years of enclosures and uses but also the different approaches employed and materials used.
One particular photo sums up the project for me, (that is the photo up at the top) or at least represents part of what I took away with me at the end of the day from the zoo. This snapshot is of cafe area - a decking on which chairs and tables sit, almost camouflaged in themselves being of similar lines and material to the iron fence that encloses it. Taken early in the day, there is no human present. Nor are there any signs of any animals, or more specifically the penguins easily visible in their watery habitat down below. Embedded in the vertical slants of the fence is a piece of metal sculpture. The penguin consigned to a basic 'logo'. The black and white of the photo gives all the components of the study a cohesion. So here we have it. The zoo of old was a place where people could come and gawp at wildlife they would not otherwise have ever seen. Entertainment of the likes of the circus - the bearded lady and the goaded bear. Modern day zoos are credible in terms of their conservation work. Strapped for cash they nonetheless have to provide entertainment along with education. Without entertainment they would not get the footfall with the spending power by which the zoo can fund its projects. Hence all the coffee areas and viewing arenas. The visitors who come to the zoo are accustomed to reality being packaging, boxing and 'cutesy'. As food is presented in a supermarket, clean, uniform and as far removed from the messy processes of manufacture as possible, the zoo follows suit with their presentation of the animals - up to a point. The animals although present are packaged for information in terms of images in keeping with children's books/animation. The cafe is full of plastic lions and chairs in the shape of giraffes. The penguin is a logo round a cafe and a fluffy toy for sale in the shop.
Away from the zoo research followed. What else - I mused governs the way we look at animals in terms of entertainment? My focus shifted to the large budget and very successful film versions of Marvel Comic Characters etc. Batman, Catwoman, Spiderman, Wolfman and of course the arch-villain The Penguin. Most of these characters had in common worthy and heroic physical traits taken right out of the Animal Kingdom. The Penguin on the other-hand less so - all he had in common with the 'real' penguin was his appearance which in a human was rather comical and not a little scary.
Further research brought me to the Penguin Book Publishing House. Seventy-five years old this year. Established in 1935 in response to the lack of cheap and available paperback fiction books. You either had to be a member of the library or rich in order to obtain books. The original Penguin paperback was designed to fit in the pocket and were to be made available at Railway stations etc in machines. Influenced by a German Publisher Albatross, the name Penguin was mooted and a designer dispatched to the London Zoo. The Penguin Book Logo was born to advertise books intended to entertain the public.
I now had three versions of penguin to work on, the Penguin Image at the Zoo, The Penguin comic character and the Penguin Book Logo. All important in terms of the themes of re-branding and reproduction of images. The commercial re-packaging of a bird I only have ever seen round a smelly watery enclosure at Edinburgh Zoo.
I borrowed from the standard Penguin Book front page format and invented three new covers incorporating my three Penguin characters. I also focused on all the designs of gates/cages and fences around the zoo to create cut-outs. Meshed together in a zig-zag book I had my maquette. I am currently experimenting with light sources in order to explore the idea of light shining through the cut-outs to cast shadows of bars on the 'covers' to imply incarceration. The 'covers' are to sit on prints of photos I took of the bird foot imprint. The reverse of the covers are to be an exercise of reproduction again - this time of photos taken of actual enclosures with down-loaded original images of my three Penguin characters superimposed on the top.
This leads me to a fortuitous find on the Internet. With the digital age, there are obviously all sorts of imposed restrictions on the reproduction of the Penguin Book Logo. This has given me wonderful wording for the foot of my 'covers' which will hopefully add cohesion to the three renditions of the penguin and will give literal weight to this dimension of the project.
The covers are to sit with the aid of bull-dog clips. Black and silver they lend to the overall colour scheme and can be construed - almost - as penguin feet. As regards suspending the cut-outs in front of the 'covers' - having spent time in a small room gazing at the shadows created by means of a reading light I have decided on a pragmatic approach to get round otherwise difficult constructs. This week I will be experimenting with wooden picture frames, wire and chains of silver paper clips!