Gaston Lacombe


In zoos all around the world, visitors go to admire some of the most beautiful, rare or fierce creatures on Earth, but often fail to notice the deplorable habitats in which they are kept.

I have been gathering pictures from zoos all around for the last three years. I like most zoos — I really do. Some zoos need to be congratulated for making great efforts at conserving endangered species, providing shelter to animals who could not otherwise survive and educating the public on ecological issues.

However, even in the best zoos, there are animals that are stuck in cement enclosures too small for their needs, or in rooms where the only vegetation they see are the plants painted on the wall. I’ve seen animals living in cages where they cannot even sit up, or have no access to daylight or clean water. At these moments, I feel guilty for supporting a system that treats animals cruelly, and at these moments, I take pictures.




Gaston Lacombe is a photographer and filmmaker, originally from the Canadian province of New Brunswick.

He has left his footprints all over the globe, including living in Latvia for 12 years, and is presently based in Washington DC. He completed his Professional Photography degree at the Center for the Digital Imaging Arts at Boston University (Washington DC campus), and also has studied at the B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. level in History.

He specializes mostly in documentary projects that have taking him to all corners of the planet. This includes an art residency in Antarctica with the government of Argentina in early 2012. His work has been shown in PDN magazine, the Washington Post, the Toronto Star, and many other publications. His photos have also been exhibited in solo and group shows in North America and Europe, including at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC.


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Gaston Lacombe


79 thoughts on “Gaston Lacombe – Captive”

  1. This is a very worthwhile project.

    I remember going to zoos as a youngster. Back then they were exciting to me, because I saw animals that were only on television and cartoons. However, as I got older, the novelty wore off. The last time I visited a zoo was over 40 years ago, and I was saddened and repulsed by the incarceration and conditions. As you mention, Gaston, some zoos are better than others. The best ones are AZA certified and undergo periodic inspections.

    On a positive note, zoos and aquariums can educate young visitors to pursue conservation as a career.
    I hope your photography, by bringing this to light, will inspire the same.

  2. caged animals …sentenced to death…very very sad…
    here is my humble contribution (smiling , not “competing” just wanna add my pain to this)
    great essay , thank you:

  3. Zoo’s should have been banned a long time ago. We can see great photos and video of any animal we want. There is no longer any excuse for keeping these animals locked up in zoos.

  4. Thanks to Gaston for the essay and to BURN for publishing it.

    For people who love and respect wild animals, zoos are a difficult issue to deal with honestly… is it ever really justified to capture wild creatures and incarcerate them in unnatural conditions for the entertainment of humans? And yet many of us know that exposure to zoos when we were young increased our knowledge and affection for animals and perhaps our sensitivity to their plight. Yes, some zoos are better than others at providing more salutary living conditions for animals, more room, more vegetation, and the opportunity to interact with other animals of their own or different species. And in general zoos have been getting better. The Bronx Zoo is an outstanding example… but still anyone who is sensitive to animals’ plights or has seen them roam freely in the wild is likely to feel a great sadness at seeing such creatures imprisoned even in the best of zoos.

    Nowadays in North America it is politically correct to frown on trying to keep any naturally wild animals as pets, and many jurisdictions even have laws against it. And while I understand the argument, I can’t really agree… in my family, while I was growing up, along with the usual dogs, cats, parakeets, and hamsters, we had many ‘wild’ animal pets, largely due to my brother who was and is a serious naturalist and who went on to get a PhD in Zoology. Over the years these pets included many lizards and snakes, raccoons, a skunk, a woodchuck, a porcupine, flying squirrels, screech owls, a crow, box turtles, and more. Familiarity with these animals as a child made me far more aware of life other than human life, and also made me acutely aware that wild animals, even when raised in captivity, are fundamentally different than creatures like dogs and cats who have a long genetic history of adaptation to living with humans.

    During two decades of mostly urban living in East Asia, one of the things that bothered me most was that the vast majority of people raised there in artificial urban environments had little awareness of or sympathy for wild animals… many apartment-living children in Japan or South Korea had never seen a horse or a cow or a pig (let alone any wild animals native to Japan like foxes, deer, boar, bears, or tanuki) except on television, and had never climbed a tree or caught a fish. Without zoos, there would be zero opportunity for them to ever have contact with or develop an appreciation for wild animals.

    While for individual animals living in a zoo may be a tragedy, the much greater tragedy for nearly all wild animals is the alarming worldwide loss of natural habitat, something that most humans are quite insensitive to. Because of this habitat loss, this is a time of very rapid extinction for many species. Zoos can and do play an important role in trying to preserve endangered species and breeding them… occasionally this results in successful re-introduction into the wild (the North American wolf is one example), but in most cases this is largely a vain effort because the habitats necessary to support these creatures’ lives are disappearing. While the plight of animals in zoos deserves our attention, my hope is that zoos, and Gaston’s photographs, can somehow bring attention to the larger problem of wild habitat destruction.. as the natural habitats implode, the only survivors of some species may be the ones in zoos.

  5. This is brilliant. Breaks my heart and hurts to see the conditions these animals live in. We humans on occasions can be so cold hearted and mean.

  6. I like the bittersweet quality of this work. These are very well observed images. Good work Gaston.

    I would like to also share another Canadian photographer’s work about animals, ‘We Animals’ by Jo-Anne McArthur,

    Two very different approaches but with similar sentiments.


  7. Mmmmh, really not convinced by this. The topic might be interesting but the photography is often too weak to keep my interest alive. When thinking about zoo pictures I think about the wonderfull Gary Winogrand’s zoo pictures he shot in the 60’s but most of all about Michel Vanden Eeckhoudt’s outstanding ‘Zoologies’ book published by Robert Delpire in 1982. A few photographs on this link are from that book:
    A few other photographs on that page are from another book he did about dogs which certainly outmatches any dog book by Elliott Erwitt.
    A newer version of the zoo pictures can be found in a book called ‘Duo’, published in 2000 by Nathan in France.


    Thanks for that link to photos by Michel Vanden Eeckhoudt… a very interesting photographer of whom I was completely unaware.

  9. You have presented some thought-provoking images, Gaston.

    Bill i totally agree with you!

    im saddened with (some of ) the naysayers/haters above , but but but hey , dont worry , jealousy is a virtue for the “expired” spirits…the “dead”…the “established”, the bullshitters …the conformists ..the insecure… the judges…the ones that sold out hiding behind the conformity/”awards” of their past…the ones that we all call: DINOSAURS:(

    as bobby dylan said : “please get out the way if u cant understand, your sons and your daughters are beyond your command..”

    keep it up Gaston and ignore (if u can…i know its not easy) the “establishment”…the boring Status Quo that they try to bring you down, shoot u down by comparing u with the dead,…the spineless…

    im with you and yes I’m CONVINCED…

    (i know im gonna be punished for this comment , but ask me if i CARE”)

  10. im saddened with (some of ) the naysayers/haters above
    correction: thers ONLY one hater here….and we all know why….
    Do you ? mr Jones?

  11. Without reading the essay I could already see where this was going.
    Very sad. #1 and #3 are such depressing shots.
    Good for you Gaston for bringing this to the table!
    It’s something I have been aware of for sometime but never really seen it like this.
    Your images speak to me.
    All the best!

  12. Thank you, everyone, for your encouraging comments. And for those who worry about the few less positive comments, don’t. Any comment is a good comment. As a photographer I am used to dealing with different views and evaluation of my work, and I appreciate all points of view.

    To reply to a few comments… Yes, this is a larger project that I am continually working on. The pictures here are just a small selection from a much larger body of work, that keeps on growing. I do want in the long run to bring this project to publication, or to another type of more permanent incarnation. There are also exhibits already planned and more in the works.

    I also would like to clarify that I don’t mean this series to be a complete condemnation of zoos. Rather, it is a comment on how humans put animals on display in their un-natural environment for public entertainment. As I mention the essay’s text, I do feel that zoos have a certain role to play in this world, in term of education, of preservation of endangered species, and providing a home for injured animals, or animals that somehow can’t survive in the wild. This does not mean however that these animals should be kept in unsanitary, uncomfortable or cruel conditions. It also does not mean that anyone who feels like it should be allowed to open a zoo, and keep animals as they please, as I have seen too often, mostly in developing countries. Along with the situations presented in the photos, I have seen situations as well, where zoos go through tremendous lengths to provide the best possible environment and living conditions for their animals. I just wish these situations were not the exception, but the norm. Where all animals would be treated with care and dignity, and as living being, instead of display objects. This essay explores this dilemma presented by zoos, and I do hope that this project, in time, can help to make a difference.

  13. Hi Gaston,

    Thanks for commenting!
    It’s always great when photographers come and interact with the audience.
    Again….great work!

  14. Gaston this is utterly brilliant work…for me it is the best essay I have seen here ever…John Vink I disagree entirely…Gaston has captured the essence of a caged animal..

    and its depressing… and there is no need for it if humans had the slightest bit of respect for habitats and didn’t try to spin a buck outta everything..

  15. Panos Bob and his cronies developed the greatest red tape system we have ever seen………from blowing in the wind to just wind. They are the animal farm

  16. cro·ny (krn)
    n. pl. cro·nies
    A longtime close friend or companion.
    ( from Greek khronios, long lasting, from khronos, time.]

    i love u when u attempt to speak greek amigo;)

    but i agree with your generalization/”blankostatementes” this time : time proves intentions

  17. The Dylan crowd are our bureaucrats, company directors, dictate the technology…….how they sold out is amazing, then maybe they were just show ponies back then.

  18. fake artist? laughing my ass off….

    its a duplicate…its an artistic “extension”….

    Fake means altering…

    Bob just brought Bresson into life dude…

    pathetic link imho…

    laughing! good try

  19. JEFF RACHEFF is simply an IDIOT bro… Mark i expect a little more “editing” from you..All my respect to you…but plz do a tiny little more research…
    Bob’s “interpretations” are ART… Henri was his INSPIRATION…Just as Frida is for me…come on man…

  20. Dylan’s work as completely original and without direct inspiration.

    another lie here..

    Bobby D always admitted his influences…Dylan Thomas, Hemingway , Shakespeare…i can go on forever…
    plz plz… research first…

    coz if i follow Jeff’s stupidity then the Rolling Stones/Zeppelin ripped of and stole from the blues…
    With your ideology, Hip Hop is ripping off the Blues too,,,!!!!???

    Geez brother…. evolution…we all borrow from each other…
    Was Herman Hesse ripping Nietzsche off??? nahhhhhhh brother…
    Wagner STOLE FROM NIETZSCHE….not Herman…
    plz plz plz research first…coz if i follow that Jeff cheapo journalist then the birds ripped the fish off…Darwin would laugh at all that bro…
    big love

  21. What is the origin and context of the T. S. Elliot quote, “Talent imitates, genius steals”?
    The quote is often attributed to Picasso and even Oscar Wilde.

    get it? i hope NOT

  22. continuing someones LEGACY is RESPECT not a rip off..
    does anyone here understands or am i talking to a bunch of egos????
    either i love wasting my time with u kids

  23. and all blues men according to you “stole” their tunes from the cottonfields correct?
    and Jazz stole from Blues right…can u see the trap u happily jump into?

  24. IMANTS

    posts for general discussion are as always….under dialogue posts….of course discussion can be under any essay as well….Road Trips is Road Trips….some stuff will inevitably pop up there as well…

  25. next thing (before i puke ) i’ll read here is that Amy Winehouse stole from Billie Holiday…
    kids plz get it together…

    ahhh and according to your “logic” Jim Morrison stole (Alabama Song) from Kurt Weill 1927 …
    think think think be4 your shit on a great artist…por favor?

  26. apologizing for what Mark…? you brought the bullshit links here…i already urged Imants to keep trashing me in Dialogue post…dont play that “sorry” card here…

    and yes tell that to Imants/John …no FAKE APOLOGIES…
    they were the ones that crucified Gaston here, not me…of course u were happy to ignore my request to move on to “dangerous current”…may i ask why?

  27. panos skoulidas
    October 1, 2012 at 9:04 pm
    Imants try “dangerous current” on dialogue…

    and that was 4 hours ago…so if u kids wanna go apeshit and disrespectful dont act like u didnt read my request…

  28. Paul
    October 2, 2012 at 1:18 am
    Didn’t bob Dylan “sell out” the day he picked up an electric guitar? :))

    thank you Paul…but as u noticed u talking to the wall of Fanatics….

  29. Panos I doubt if I was trashing you I stated the how the Dylan brigade became the capitalist demons of today you rally against.

  30. Imants, you know better than anyone else in here my connection to you…
    and no matter what i wrote this respect/connection wont change… and yes i need to be “trashed” occasionally…i dont hold the “truth” just passionate(understatement;) thats all….
    one love

  31. Dylan brigade became the capitalist demons of today you rally against
    and yes yes yes…i agree!…the fans, the brigade…yes indeed…fuckem

  32. Gaston, I like your pictures a lot, especially number 6, the bald headed stork that looks like a Mafia boss counting down the days until he gets out of stir. As for the Bob Dylan Fan and Auto Repair Shop, I wish I understood what the hell you guys are going on about, but it went way over my head. I guess I’m just iggerant that way.

  33. Akaky you’re right.. I was DJing Rammstein and someone put a fake 300 video on the song..( home it won’t start a new Arab spring;)
    Happens a lot in YouTube :)
    Silly movie (300) is an understatement … but I won’t mind owning those leonids’s biceps :)

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