Photographer Ed Wray lives in Jakarta, where he says monkeys can be seen daily. They roam the streets, the serve as people’s pets, and they perform as little street performers. It wasn’t until Ed saw a monkey wearing a baby doll head that he took special note. The eeriness of the images stuck with him, and he decided to investigate this culture of monkeys dressed as dolls.
Finding the source of these special monkeys took a little bit of work. Ed asked around to find out if there was a neighborhood where the street-performing monkeys were being trained. A friend of his, who was also a television cameraman, had luckily covered a story about a place where many of the performing monkeys came from, so Ed went to the location to see if for himself. He was stunned by the strangeness of what he saw.
It was really quite a scene—a small, very poor kampung (neighborhood) where monkeys were everywhere, riding rocking horses, peering curiously from cages and dark corners, wrapping dirty alleyways in a layer of mystery.
Ed is primarily a reportage photographer, so taking on this monkey project made sense for him. He notes that in taking it on, though, he could have approached it from many angles; there was some severe cruelty in the treatment of most of the monkeys, which he could have focused on, but he wound up being drawn by a different story. “For me, it was really about how acute and desperate poverty leads to extreme and horrific measures,” says Ed. “Cruel or not, working with monkeys was the only way the people in this kampung knew to make a living.” Ed was interested in the human-animal relationship he was seeing with the monkeys and their owners.
Ed had just a couple challenges throughout the course of this project. “One of the main challenges was to get people in the neighborhood to accept my presence without paying me a lot of attention,” he says. He also had to work to maneuver throughout the neighborhoods, which were mostly dark and tight in space, and where the monkeys were always moving quickly.
I wanted the look of the images to mirror the very closed, gritty look of the neighborhood.
Ed’s photos had a pretty enormous impact once they were published. Some people commented on the creepiness of the monkeys and the cruelty of their treatment. But some activists actually went to the Jakarta government and worked with them to ban the practice of the performing masked monkeys. Now, it is no longer possible to see these performing monkeys in Jakarta. Ed says they can, however, still be found in some other Indonesian cities.
After creating a project that has had such profound results, Ed is curious to know the greater impact of changes that were made because of his images. Ed says he wishes he had kept in touch with the monkey handlers to see where their lives had gone from there.
I don’t know where they went or what they are doing now. I would really have liked to document the effect the ban has had on their lives.”
To view more work from Ed, be sure to visit ed-wray.com.