Animal photojournalism shines a spotlight on what is usually HIDDEN

Part of HIDDEN's title page image by Britta Jaschinski. Photo: We Animals Media HIDDEN media kit/supplied

Australian photographer Kelsey Hannah speaks about her contribution to the ground-breaking book HIDDEN: Animals in the Anthropocene on the anniversary of its publication. By Elizabeth Usher

The phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words” has been knocking about for over a century. These days, a thousand words would itself probably have even been somewhat devalued, with growing numbers of people almost proudly stating how little they ever actually read! But it cannot be denied that a powerful image has the ability to stop us in our tracks and potentially even change the direction of our life.

It’s widely known that Lyn White, the Director of Strategy at Animals Australia and one of Australia’s leading animal advocates for the past two decades, was galvanised into becoming an activist after being moved to tears by an image in a magazine showing a caged bear used in “bear bile farming”. 

HIDDEN: Animals in the Anthropocene was released on 17 November, 2020 with the cover featuring a photograph by Konrad Lozinski. Photo: We Animals Media HIDDEN media kit/supplied.

Last year, Animals Australia became the Senior Publishing Partner of HIDDEN: Animals in the Anthropocene, an incredible collection of images and essays by We Animals Media described as “an unflinching book of photography about our conflict with non-human animals around the globe”.

Jo-Anne McArthur, founder of We Animals and co-editor of HIDDEN, in front of a camera for a change as photographed by Lisa MacIntosh. Photo: We Animals Media/supplied.

Jo-Anne McArthur, renowned animal photojournalist and the founder of We Animals Media, co-edited the book along with acclaimed photo editor and journalist Keith Wilson. I’ve mentioned drawing inspiration from McArthur’s approach in a previous article and HIDDEN has certainly further cemented my admiration and appreciation in that regard.

With the publication clocking in at over 2.1kg, McArthur and Wilson have brought together 40 photographers to deliver a “weighty tome” both figuratively and literally. One of the Australian contributors is Melbourne-based Kelsey Hannah, the self-taught photographer behind Animals Uncovered

Kelsey Hannah actively campaigns on a number of different issues. Photo: Charlie Collins/supplied.

Hannah’s image is on page 208 of HIDDEN, with the caption: “Blood drips from a sheep’s body after the animal was killed on the spot in an isolation pen. Australia.” The photograph is also on Hannah’s Animals Uncovered Facebook page with a “graphic image warning” and a longer description, including the explanation: “Deemed unfit for transportation and thus unfit to be slaughtered for human consumption, animals are callously and routinely killed on the spot at livestock sales.”

I’ve included the photograph as part of a collection at the bottom of this article, as vegan readers who are clearly already ‘on board’ may wish to choose not to view the more challenging images. On this note, I ask Hannah how she approaches deciding how confronting a particular image should be, in terms of considering the impact on the viewer, and she explains: “I guess there’s always a space for what are very violent images because they are the reality. I would try to just maybe litter them in amongst my other images to kind of soften the blow a little bit. But I think there’s absolutely the space for it because it is really unfortunate that that’s the reality and people do need to see that.”

Limpy is “an individual who is able to live in freedom and thrive and be happy”. He resides at Lefty’s Place Farm Sanctuary run by Tamara Kenneally, another Australian photographer featured in HIDDEN. Photo: Tamara Kenneally, Lefty’s Place Farm Sanctuary/Facebook.

The “other images” mentioned often come from visiting sanctuaries and taking photographs of the residents living there in safety. Hannah says she is then able to display “the stark contrast between who is so clearly suffering and an individual who is able to live in freedom and thrive and be happy”.

This highlights her usual strategy of making a single individual’s story the focus point of her images, in order to reach the viewer more effectively. “When you talk about the sheer numbers of animals getting killed, no wonder people can’t, or really struggle to, relate to them. When you’re looking at a chicken shed of upwards of fifty thousand individuals, it was too much for people to think about, so honing in on one individual and thinking about this one animal – that’s how I’m hoping people will be able to connect.”

The official book trailer for HIDDEN: Animals in the Anthropocene. Photos from We Animals Media are also the basis for my music video Please Don’t Turn Away, being released today to coincide with the anniversary of HIDDEN‘s publication. Video: We Animals Media/YouTube.

Hannah is also connecting her passion for positive change to various other campaigns, with her advocacy efforts spreading across issues including environmental justice, and human rights issues such as refugee rights and First Nations rights. One goal is “trying to get those crossover of people to think about both of those issues – get the people who are really sympathetic to human rights and really understand that to start thinking about animals as well and then vice versa”.

She also has a level of sympathy for those working in the industries that she is trying to expose, saying: “It’s really easy to demonise people and get angry, and sure, when we see footage of people harming animals it’s really awful … but ultimately … as soon as we empathise and understand one another better we’ll be able to move forward. And it’s important to highlight the people working in these industries as well … a lot of refugees and immigrants … low paying awful farm work and there’s a lot of underlying issues that need to be acknowledged and worked on if we can dismantle this whole system.”

That might be a daunting task, but armed with a camera and an eye for taking arresting images, Hannah and the entire team behind the exceptional publication HIDDEN are clearly not backing down.

Earlier this year, HIDDEN was awarded Photography Book of the Year by the Pictures of the Year International (POYi) photojournalism awards. This award recognises the best documentary visual storytelling in a book. Photo: We Animals Media/supplied.

Win one two copies of HIDDEN – one signed by Jo-Anne McArthur!

Between now and Thursday, 2 December, Australian readers have two separate opportunities to win a copy of HIDDEN: Animals in the Anthropocene. One has been personally signed by Jo-Anne McArthur herself.

1. Signed copy – fundraising raffle for Animal Liberation

In light of Sydney-based Animal Liberation’s recent shocking Australian rabbit meat farming exposé and for celebrating 45 years of the organisation’s campaigning for a compassionate world for animals, they are running a special fundraising raffle that will be drawn at their December online public meeting on Thursday, 2 December. First prize is a signed copy of HIDDEN and second prize is an Animal Liberation t-shirt. Details are available here: www.al.org.au/raffle.

2. Unsigned copy – retweet the Sentinel‘s tweet about this article

Separately, the Sentinel also has an unsigned copy to give away. Simply follow the Sentinel Twitter account and retweet the Sentinel tweet about this article by 11.59pm, 1 December (Sydney time). The winner will then be randomly selected.

NB: Due to prohibitive postage costs, prizes cannot be mailed internationally.

GRAPHIC PHOTO WARNING

The photos below are from HIDDEN: Animals in the Anthropocene and make for confronting viewing.

“One of the most powerful things is the camera, showing what they don’t want you to see.  There’s a reason why we’re generally not allowed to go into these places, because if people did see the real stark reality of the majority of these places I think they would think a lot differently.”

– Kelsey Hannah
Kelsey Hannah’s photograph from page 1208 HIDDEN, which bears the caption: Blood drips from a sheep’s body after the animal was killed on the spot in an isolation pen. Australia. Photo: Animals Uncovered/Facebook.
Luis Tato: To produce the luxury food item foie gras, ducks and geese are force-fed to fatten their livers up to ten times their natural size. Spain. Photo: We Animals Media/supplied.
Kristo Muurima: As far as the eye can see. Thousands of chickens packed into a broiler hall complex. Finland. Photo: We Animals Media/supplied.
Aaron Gekoski: A cage of dogs watch as others are killed and dismembered before being cooked. Cambodia. Photo: We Animals Media/supplied.
Andrew Skowron: Ready for slaughter, six-week-old chickens are carelessly caught and packed into crates, a process that often results in injury to wings and legs. Poland. Photo: We Animals Media/supplied.

Elizabeth Usher is the vegan editor of the Sydney Sentinel. Elizabeth has released a music video ‘Please Don’t Turn Away’, to mark the anniversary of HIDDEN‘s publication. The song was inspired by Jo-Anne McArthur and includes photographs from the We Animals Media image library. YouTube required it to be age-restricted so we cannot embed it here but it available to vie on her Veganthused YouTube channel.