Life Behind Bars Vol. I

We rated this book:


A coffee table book, exhibiting superlative photography; glossily hard-covered and glossy throughout. It is nine inches high, eleven inches wide, about a half-inch thick. Full-page photographs bleed to the edges of pages, lending impact to exhibited plates when the book is open. The binding allows open display.

Of course, emphasis is on confined creatures; though the text does make it clear that some are confined for emergency breeding of imperiled species, some for rescue purposes. The work is dedicated to PETA Business Friends, and each presentation of a species details the current extinction threat it is under. For example, the Chinese alligator is classified as critically endangered. (Full revelation: I never knew there were any alligators outside the Americas!) polar bears and African lions are tagged as vulnerable. Meerkats, prolific and vigilant little critters, rate under “least concern,” as do Japanese macaques, flamingoes, and, happily, grey wolves. The book obviously intends to Increase sensitivity to the plight of constrained beings.

And that intent is accomplished repeatedly and masterfully. Most telling are the shots that show us other intelligences in captivity, enduring constrained existences. Many elicit pity: a grey wolf striding, golden eyes observing, but with the shadows of chain link dappling its fur; an adult, lactating gorilla with her young one, seated in obvious boredom; a chimpanzee, our closest relative, staring soulfully through more chain-link fencing.

Returning to the photography itself, I must praise the texture, color/contrast, and immediacy of this presentation. As stated, full plates bleed to page edges, and where smaller illustrations occur they are most often bordered in black. This has some exceptions: giraffe faces are quite fittingly shown against the sky. The volume overall is a dark presentation.

This leads me to some negative technical observation necessary to mention in an honest review. The text is all too often a tiny white font on black. It’s obvious that its purpose was to avoid competition with the photo art, but It is difficult to make out what is written at the distance demanded by the photos, and, because of the glossiness of the pages, is very difficult to read under a reading lamp even with a lens. Where text is black on white it is, whilst similarly minuscule, much easier to read. This is the first of multiple volumes. Some editing would be helpful in future commentary/text. On pages 14 and 15 are wonderful pictures of African lionesses against a rock, but the accompanying text conflates African lions, which are of the genus Panthera, with American mountain lions, which are large cats descended from (Pleistocene?) small cats. That is why cougars retain the hyoid structure for sustained purring.

All negatives are trivial in this magnificent work of photographic art.


Read our interview with author and photographer Julian Starks

Reviewed By:

Star Count 5/5
Format Hard
Page Count 110 pages
Publisher Dorrance Publishing
Publish Date 10-Apr-2020
ISBN 9781645309055 Buy this Book
Issue August 2020
Category Architecture & Photography


  1. Mike Stewart


    I just got to see a copy of “Life Behind Bars”, book at a Book talk at the Los Angeles Film School here in Los Angeles, CA.

    My God this book was awesome. The photos were just stunning. But, what made them so good was the way Julian captured the inner soul of each of these beautiful creatures.

    I can’t say how much this book has changed my view of Animal conservation. I both the Book right then and there.

    My two Thumbs up for this book and of Julian’s Photography and Mission.

    Bravo Julian! Keep up the great work!!!

    Mike Stewart

Add a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.