The Best Animal Photography of the Last 20 Years

Photo: Self-Portrait of a female Celebes crested macaque in North Sulawesi, Indonesia, 2011. David Slater via Wikimedia Commons.

There is nothing quite like animal photographs to change the way we see the world. No longer are we, the human being, the center of attention—which can be quite a relief. There’s something very relaxing about getting outside of yourself. Animal photography has powers unlike any other genre that exists: it reminds us of the profundity of existence itself. It makes us aware that no matter how you slice it: life is hard. But it’s also charming, endearing, inspiring, and humbling.

Also: The Best Portrait Photography of the Last 20 Years

In celebration of all the creatures that exist on our green Earth, Crave has put together a collection of some of the best animal photography of the past 20 years.

Photo: Self-Portrait of a female Celebes crested macaque in North Sulawesi, Indonesia, 2011. David Slater via Wikimedia Commons.

Self-Portrait of a female Celebes crested macaque in North Sulawesi, Indonesia

In the annals of animal photography, perhaps there is no greater image ever made than the self-portrait of a female Celebes crested macaque in North Sulawesi, Indonesia. In 2011, this charming monkey picked up David Slater’s camera and photographed herself with it—taking not only one hell of a photo, but starting a lawsuit.

PETA claims the monkey holds the copyright to her work. Slater said he held it. The U.S. Copyright Office says no one can own the rights to a work taken by an animal. In January 2016, U.S. District Judge William Orrick wrote a tentative opinion, pushing the buck: “I’m not the person to weigh into this. This is an issue for Congress and the president. If they think animals should have the right of copyright they’re free, I think, under the Constitution, to do that.”

So for now, the legendary image is available in the public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Still from “Super Monkey & Lovely Dog” Season 1, Episode 19.

“Super Monkey & Lovely Dog” aka Pankun & James

Born in 2001, a chimpanzee named Pankun became a star when he and his buddy, bulldog James, were given a TV show in Japan. Together the two went on adventures that absolutely blow your mind, including a couple of different episodes where Pankun is given the assignment to use a camera.

In his 1997 book, Next of Kin, primate researcher Roger Fouts describes chimpanzees “reading” pictures just as we do. They would casually leaf through magazines at their leisure, signing about what they saw, able to recognize a two dimensional representation of the three-dimensional world.

But Pankun went it one better, showing that chimpanzees understood the purpose of a camera, and how to use it. The tragedy, of course, is that life as a working actor was not ideal for Pankun as he entered adolescence. In 2012 he was forced to retired after attacking a student trainee and severely injuring her during a performance.

Hope © Traer Scott, courtesy of Princeton Architectural Press.

Traer Scott: Shelter Dogs

It has been said that the eyes are the window of the soul, and nowhere is this quite so evident than in the face of a dog. As our oldest interspecies compatriot on this earth, dogs have evolved with us emotionally and intellectually for tens of thousands of years, giving them the ability to read our faces and vice versa.

In 2005, photographer Traer Scott began photographing dogs as a volunteer at animal shelters. A year later she published her first book, Shelter Dogs, a massive success with 50,000 copies sold and tens of thousands of dollars raised for the ASPCA. Since then, she has gone on to publish more books including Finding Home: Shelter Dogs and Their Stories (Princeton Architectural Press).

The book includes stunning black and white portraits accompanied by alternately heartbreaking and uplifting stories of love and loss, like the story of Hope, who was born with deformed front and back legs. Hope was adopted from animal control in New York City immediately before she was scheduled to be euthanized. Almost two years later, when her owner had to be unexpectedly hospitalized for a long period, Hope was surrendered again to a shelter. Deemed unadoptable, she was scheduled (for the second time in her life) to be euthanized but was reunited with her owner at the eleventh hour

Wasteland with Elephant, 2015. © Nick Brandt, Courtesy of Edwynn Houk Gallery. New York

Nick Brandt: Inherit the Dust

Nick Brandt has been documenting the vanishing African landscape since 2001, creating some of the most haunting images of a disappearing world since Edward S. Curtis traversed the Great Plains one hundred years ago.

Inherit The Dust, published in 2016 by Edwynn Houk Editions, shows the impact of progress on the natural world, using the ability of the camera to both capture and transcend time so that we may consider the interplay between the past and present. Brandt placed a life-size panel of one of his animal portraits in areas they used to roam, areas that today have become factories, dumpsites, underpasses, and quarries, reminding us of the speed at which the landscape can be decimated.

Brandt spoke with Crave about his mission to use photography as a means to address the importance of conservation in our brave new world

The Hyena & Other Men by Pieter Hugo, published by Prestel.

Pieter Hugo: The Hyena & Other Men

A hush fell over the illustrated book publishing world when Pieter Hugo released his first monograph, The Hyena & Other Men in 2007 with Prestel. No one in the West was ready for Nigerian street life, for the relationship that gang members have with the hyenas and baboons they bring on rounds to collect debts, perform for crowds, and sell traditional medicines.

Hugo’s photographs are a compelling study in the dynamics of domination and submission, and how the two work as one to create a force so potent and powerful, the images will steal your breath right out of your mouth.

Miss Rosen is a journalist covering art, photography, culture, and books. Her byline has appeared in L’Uomo Vogue, Vogue Online, The Undefeated, Dazed Digital, Aperture Online, and Feature Shoot. Follow her on Twitter @Miss_Rosen.