I PLACE ANIMALS INTO three categories. The first category could be called “pets,” or “companion animals.” We know them well: dogs, cats, small domestic animals with whom we share our lives, even our food and our beds. The second category we know as “wildlife”: the charismatic megafauna we see on the covers of National Geographic, whose beauty and strength we revere from a distance but whose lives have little to no bearing on our own. We donate money to organizations that save them; we put photos of them up on our walls.
My work doesn’t focus very much on these animals. I am interested in the third category: the rest of the world’s animals. The invisibles. The ghosts. They are the animals with whom we have the most intimate relationship, and yet we don’t really see them. We barely give them a thought. When we do see them, it’s in parts. We call them spare ribs instead of pigs. We call them leather instead of cows. Honey garlic wings instead of chickens. Filets instead of fish. We wear these animals; we ingest them many times a day; we use products and medicines that are tested on them; and yet they remain, as individuals, absent from our line of sight.
It’s this third category, the ghosts, that I show to the world. So few photojournalists are looking at this issue of hidden mass abuse. Billions of animals suffer at our hands each year. The problem is worldwide, and access to these industries ranges from difficult to impossible. My hope is that if we can see and understand how these animals are used and abused, if we can see how they live and how they die, then we can make more informed, kinder decisions about how we consume them.
There’s a beautiful quote from Edgar’s Mission Farm Sanctuary in Australia, and I share it often. It reads, simply: “If we could live happy and healthy lives without harming others, why wouldn’t we?”
There are many ways to live happily and healthily while reducing harm to animals and to the environment—if we don’t choose to hide and ignore them. Thank you for looking at the animals we rarely actually see. My hope is that you won’t turn away.
(To return to the Spring 2016 Table of Contents, click here.)
Tikkun 2016 Volume 31, Number 2: 27-29