Interview with Photographer Timo Stammberger
Pig breeding and fattening facility.
Through his photography, Timo Stammberger hopes to raise awareness for those whose voices go unheard. He grew up in Hamburg (b. 1980) and Frankfurt/Main and currently lives and works in Berlin. He studied at the Ostkreuzschule für Fotografie, Berlin.
A duck fattening facility. The animal industry is a world operating behind closed doors.
How did you get into animal rights photography?
I’ve been a professional photographer for many years with a focus on documentary photography, whilst also doing some assignments in the corporate world. I decided to get involved as a photographer when I learned about the horrors of factory farming and the basics of animal ethics. However, deep down I hoped that abusive situations were individual cases of bad farms mistreating animals. I think this is human nature: we want to believe in the good of things.
It wasn’t until I took part in my first investigation and saw the suffering with my own eyes. Approaching the place, it appeared to me as a rusty junkyard. We worked in one of the numerous sheds, documenting the many animal welfare infringements. With uncomfortably hot air, an unbearable stench of feces, animals suffering and piglets dying all around us, the place really felt like an unspeakable place to me. Looking into the eyes of these suffering animals was my wake-up call. I knew from that moment on I would contribute my skills as a photographer to advocate for them. It didn’t take me very long to realize that these harsh conditions are systemic, an integral part of the animal agriculture industry.
Death is an immanent part of this industry. We opened a door and suddenly saw this dead pig just laying in the hallway. They hadn’t even survived the six months of fattening before being taken to slaughter.
Photography to me is a tool to inspire change. I don’t subscribe to art for art’s sake. My dear friend Jaya Bhumitra once put it perfectly and I totally agree that: “Art is inspired by and derived from the happenings in the world around it and can provide social commentary and teaching by touching the viewers who see it. At the same time, art serves the purpose of compelling new audiences to not only consume the art, but to act.”
Organic egg facility.
What role do you see photojournalism playing in the animal rights movement?
Photojournalism makes the issues of our time visible. It can translate emotions into actions, impacting politics and the public view. Animal agriculture is one of the most destructive and unethical industries on the planet. The public needs to see what’s happening to animals and that it’s part of a broader social problem of how we think about animals and the perceived necessity of using them at all. Hopefully, our work inspires others to demand necessary change and put pressure on politicians to act!
On an individual level, it’s also an opportunity to raise awareness and empathy in people in regards to the origins of their food, so they can make informed choices about whether they want to contribute to animal suffering or not.
A boar fattening facility. These pigs were comforting each other by touching snouts.
If you could issue an invitation to other photographers to take up animal rights photography, what would you say? If you could issue an invitation to the media to include the work of animal rights photojournalists, what would you say?
I would point out that animal rights issues are a social justice issue, vast in scale and with severe direct consequences, for animals and humans alike. It’s just another case of discrimination, but because of species membership. Photojournalists should go for it! I see it as our duty as artists and photographers to seek truth and enlighten the public.
I would say a similar thing to the media. Due to the urgency of the topic it should be considered their responsibility to educate the public and offer solutions for leading a less destructive lifestyle.
Far out of our sight animals are enduring their short lives inside windowless sheds scattered all over this (innocent looking) forest. “Home” to hundreds of thousands of broiler chickens.
Windowless sheds and “home” to broiler chickens.
Relative to the scope of the problem, there hasn’t been much reflection of this topic in the art and photography world. The fact that 65 billion sentient land animals get slaughtered every year for a quick dinner experience is one of the biggest crimes of humankind. This insane number of animals remains unseen by society. In fact, they make up the majority of biomass on this planet. They need our help!
A boiler chicken facility. Exhaust pipes are part of every factory farm. They serve to release the unbearable stench from the inside.
Your project “Habitat” is about animals but no animals are depicted. What stories do these images tell?
I photographed many, many confined animals inside horrible factory farms. Nobody really knows what’s happening to animals or understands how vast the scale is. Billions of them are kept in mostly windowless factory farms hidden away from our cities and the consumers’ eye. There are over 185,000 factory farms in Germany. It’s a systematic exploitation of animals and workers alike. Yet, despite the scope of the problem, I realized that many people won’t even look at the images from the inside of the farms. They avoid facing the cruel origin of their food. They’d rather not know.
With “Habitat,” I’ve chosen a more conceptual, subtle approach, hoping the viewer is more likely to join me in examining the issue. The photo series focuses on the infrastructure of animal agriculture, on its vast scale and its concealed nature. The project doesn’t include any graphic imagery, but by presenting the topic in this way I’m hoping to enable viewers to reflect for themselves about what must happen inside these places, allowing them to imagine the plight of the animals.
A broiler chicken facility.
Is there any particular animal rights photograph you’ve shot that you think represents your work and what you’d like to communicate to the world particularly well? Can you tell us about this image – details about how and why you shot it?
There are two. One of them is the image of the death bin. Every farm has these bins to throw away animals that have died from the harsh keeping conditions even before being old enough to be taken to slaughter. It was one of the first times I had ever seen them. I entered the room, with only seeing a small part of the ducks’ feet only before discovering that it was full of dead ducks and baby chicks. A disturbing scene.
Often times, as documented before, they even throw away animals that are still alive. In this industry, animals are a commodity. They only exist as numbers.
At a duck fattening facility. Every factory farm has these containers to throw away animals that have died.
The second one is the photo of the pig in the gestation crate. Is there someone looking back at us, rather than something? A sentient being who would much rather be running around outside, digging in the mud and just enjoy being a pig? But we put these warm, gentle beings into this system of cold metal and concrete, only to become neatly wrapped products on supermarket shelves. Products that we actually don’t need to live happy and healthy lives.
Pig breeding and fattening facility.
Both images reflect the notion I have of our/my work in relation to this huge industry. What the public gets to see, if anything at all, is only a glimpse of the actual extent of what’s happening behind closed factory farm doors.
What is next for you in your work?
I just released another photo series revolving around an essential aspect of factory farming the public really isn’t aware of at all: The various tools being used to make the animals fit the system of factory farming. On this note, there are many more stories to tell!
In order to increase the output of work and grow as an activist, I’m in the process of launching a non-profit creative platform. The idea is bringing together different activists on a project to project basis to produce a variety of creative content revolving around factory farming. We hope to add to the existing animal rights landscape in releasing projects in the art, documentary and urban intervention context.
I will continue to shine a light on factory farming from all creative angles possible. Most aspects of this industry are hidden to consumers, but come along with eating animals. Some have been documented a lot whilst other aspects still bear the potential of creative examination.
Various tools used in the animal industry.
What advice would you give photographers who are starting out and focusing on animal advocacy work?
Whether it’s commercial, art, demos or investigations. I would recommend finding your specific interest within the animal rights movement and think about how you can contribute. When in doubt, try different things and gather experience.
Furthermore, what is it exactly that you wish to tell through your work? Once you’ve created your vision, trust your path and fall in love with the creative process.
That advice goes for photographers but also for anyone else who has an interest in getting involved in the movement. Whether already vegan or not, it’s important to inspire positive change. I turned vegan after finding out about all these issues and we should contribute to people finding out as well.
*On a sidenote: I recommend accessing the We Animals Media Masterclass 🙂 Really wonderful idea and meta activism!
Investigation team headed to an organic egg facility.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Let’s take care of ourselves! Burnout is real. It’s often being talked about but can be hard to prevent when working for a cause where our efforts clearly can never be enough. But when constant overworking becomes a badge of honor it can negatively impact our lives and the lives of those around us.
We need to take care of each other and create an activist ecosystem where on- and off-times, rest and reflection are valued as part of being an activist.
Thanks to everybody who is involved in activism! One day if we are able to eliminate animal farming, our work will be important artifacts for future generations to know about a past world we never want to revisit.
Interview by Jo-Anne McArthur. All images copyright Timo Stammberger.