Interview with photographer Andrew Skowron
Did you do photography before you started animal photography?
Yes – I was working as a press photographer for 13 years. My work span has not been limited to a particular topic. I’m shooting everything from potholes to funerals to political topics. Now I have decided to quit my regular job for the Poland-wide daily paper to focus on pro-animal topics which are closer to the heart for me. I have learned a lot working for the newspaper and it has surely had a big impact on my skills.
What led you to start this sort of difficult work?
The anger for the egoism in our society, the egoism that wins over the empathy. The camera in my hands is a sort of weapon; thanks to it, I can reveal what is invisible to most people – pain in the name of consumerism. But it also gives me a chance to show the few who have survived. This gives me satisfaction and a moment of breath.
Are there many animal rights photographers in Poland, and do you see what you do as something that can potentially carve the way for other photographers to do it as well?
I don’t know anybody who takes pictures only on animal right issues. Of course, there are pictures taken by activists during investigations or interventions. Everybody who cares, at least a bit about animals, should do that and publish pictures, especially in the times of such open access to the Internet. It doesn’t matter if the picture is professional or taken with a phone.
Do you prefer working alone or with a team, and why?
It depends on the situation. For technical reasons it is often better to work with a person you can trust, to have more comfort in your work. On the other hand, if the situation allows me to work alone, I can relate more closely and strongly with the animals.
Which organizations or individuals have used your images or where have they been published? What is your hope for the images you shoot? My pictures were published in an opinion creative Polish daily newspaper. Mainly Otwarte Klatki (Open Cages) use my pictures, the Save Movement, AWF, Eurogroup, The Humane League, L214 Ethique et Animaux, Compassion Over Killing, and Eyes on Animals. It is hard to name all. Groups often write to me on Instagram to ask if they can use my pictures on their webpages, in leaflets or on social media accounts.
Regarding your photo gear, do you travel light, or do you carry a lot of equipment?
I use one reflex-camera with high luminous sensitivity, two bright wide-angle lenses, one portrait lens and one telephoto lens. For night shots I also use a LED lamp.
Do you have any techniques or tricks you’d like to share with photographers who want to photograph the situations that you shoot?
I think that each person works out his or her own way of taking pictures, depending on the situation and what animal is being photographed. For example, shots on transports are easier with wide-angle lens 16-35 or even a fisheye lens as you can easily use it between the slits of the truck, or slits in poultry cages. If possible, it’s good to interact with the animal, going inside the stall, in between the animals. I like this closeness, when a cow starts licking the camera.
How do you interact with the people around you when you’re taking these photographs?
I try to engage a closer relation to create a convenient and friendly atmosphere. I don’t show any emotions; try to distance myself from what I see. Often the conversation wanders off to private matters, not related to animals. I ask a lot about the farming conditions, but not from an animal activist’s perspective. I am there to document, not analyze the morality. However, I sometimes ask about the attitude to animals and the answers are surprising. For example, a person who milks cows admitted not to drink milk and eat dairy.
What issues in particular really hit home for you?
Animal transportation is terrifying – crying lambs or cows, or thousands of maimed broiler chickens that look like zombies. Each factory farm is horrifying. In transport, there is nothing in particular that’s bad—everything is moving and makes you think quickly—but it happens later, during editing, when you have time to think and to re-experience it. And it’s then when a question appears: How on earth can people feel entitled to do such atrocities? And another day comes and everything starts from the beginning – from total numbness to great empathy.
Interview by Sayara Thurston.
Learn more about Skowron’s work and follow him on Instagram.