In the grand tradition of New Republic covers featuring apes or beautiful people, the magazine decided to honor this week’s Environmental Issue (and the unveiling of our new Environment & Energy channel) with a cover that breaks new boundaries: monkeys with beautiful people! Art director Joe Heroun turned to photojournalist James Balog, who originally used the image of Isabella Rossellini and Sally the chimp, shot in 1991, in his 1993 book Anima.
Balog blurs the line between idealized perceptions of nature and the realities of humanity’s relationship with the environment. As he argues in Anima, “With its wanton randomness and its blood and dirt and its passion, Nature is an affront to delusions of decency.” His animal portraits reveal the staging underlying much wildlife photography, with pelicans and gazelles caught in front of the photographers’ white drop cloths and endangered species posed as though for loving funeral portraits. In Anima, he focused on pairing chimpanzees with their closest relative (there’s only a 1.6 percent difference in the genetic makeup of a chimp and a human) in intimate settings.
And how did the lovely Isabella end up in a monkey’s lap? Balog explains, “It shocked me that the most famous model in the world was so eager and willing to give two days of personal time to working with chimpanzees. But, she was; and she and a chimp named Sally got along wonderfully.” And so our cover was born. You can watch a slideshow of James Balog's photographs here.