Animal Photojournalism (APJ) is an emergent genre of photography that captures, memorializes, and exposes the experiences of animals who live amongst us, but who we fail to see. At its core, the images in this pioneering field document the broader human-animal conflict and its resultant ecosystems of suffering. As global societies collectively awaken to the realities of our unjust exploitation of animals, APJ is of increasing interest.
From public and environmental health crises to zoonotic viruses, animals are inextricably linked to many areas of current global concern, and rightfully so. Our existence is intertwined, and the ethics of how we treat the other sentient beings with whom we share this planet are being called into question. Animal photojournalism aims to encourage swift and necessary change on behalf of the beings in the frame.
Animal photojournalism is in part defined by what it is not. Most often, we look at animals through the familiar lens of wildlife and portrait photography. In recent years, conservation photography has emerged as a prominent field, documenting wild, endangered and threatened species impacted by humanity. Animal photojournalism emphasizes the inclusion of all animals, particularly those historically underrepresented but with whom we in fact have very close contact: the animals we eat and wear, the animals used in research, and the animals we use for entertainment, work, and in religious practice. Animal photojournalism acknowledges their beinghood and brings their stories to light.
Like photojournalism and conflict photography, animal photojournalism often takes the form of an in-depth reportage or photo essay. It is relevant to current news and it shapes conversations about its subject matter. Additionally, APJ is used to further political, philosophical, and scientific pedagogy and campaigning. Many APJs are invested in contributing to current worldwide campaigns to lessen, and end, animal exploitation.
Animal photojournalism descends from conflict photography in that the photographer is exposing a story that is kept hidden from the public through political and economic agendas. Thus, their images are necessary catalysts for change.
As with conflict photographers, APJs put themselves at physical and psychological risk in order to document a practice or an event. In common with humanitarian and conflict photographers, animal photojournalists can also suffer long term psychological ramifications such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result of bearing witness to violence and injustice towards others.
Because animals used by humans are often caged and concealed, APJs may need to surreptitiously gain access to a place of animal exploitation. Examples are industrial farms, fur farms, and laboratories in which animal experimentation takes place. In recent years and in response to APJs, activists, and whistleblowers exposing animal industries, powerful lobbying efforts on behalf of large corporations have ushered in what are known as “ag gag” laws, designed to dissuade and criminalize the documentation of animal use.
APJ is groundbreaking for two reasons. First, images in this genre demand radical empathy and self-awareness. Viewers must de-center themselves and consider the world through the eyes of a different species, while holding the truth of humanity’s undeniable role in the story. Additionally, it poses a fundamental threat to deeply embedded societal systems that continue, largely unchallenged. The act of seeking out these visual stories is itself an act of resistance.