Timo Stammberger is a Berlin-based documentary photographer who studied at the Ostkreuz School of Photography. He tackles social issues through his work, striving to make visible the discrimination faced by humans and non-human animals.
In his project "Making the Connection," Timo uses a series of exterior photographs to show the scope and secretive nature of industrialized animal agriculture. Timo observes that these facilities are out of sight and out of mind for us; we can disassociate ourselves from what takes place, never seeing, let alone critically examining, the system of animal use that pervades our everyday lives.
Timo has also gone undercover with Animal Equality exposing the brutal reality of industrialized farming. His photos depict the haunting filth and disposability of the system.
We Animals photographer Jo-Anne McArthur says:
I've worked closely with Animal Equality over the years and when I started seeing Timo's poignant and professional photography in their campaigns, I immediately wanted to hear about who this great new photographer was. It seemed like a fantastic union and it really is. Timo's passion for his work and for animal issues matches that of Animal Equality's. I've had the pleasure of meeting Timo on a few occassions and I can say that he's a really kind and humble person and probably a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to his work. His heart's in it and he has an understanding of the intersectionality of opppressions, which is why he is so interested in animal, human and environmental issues. I really admire his drive and his creative eye.
How did you get into animal rights photography?
When I learned about the horrors of animals abuse and the basics of animal ethics, I became vegan. However, deep down I hoped that abusive situations were individual cases of bad farms mistreating animas. I think this is human nature: we want to believe in the good of things.
It wasn’t until I did my first investigation with Animal Equality and saw the suffering first hand that I realized these bad conditions are systemic, an integral part of the animal agriculture industry. Looking into the eyes of suffering animals was a wake-up call. I knew from that moment on I would contribute my skills as a photographer to advocate for the voiceless. I use photography to create a window so that people can see what lies behind innocent-looking product logos and packaging.
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, and it’s also what motivates me most. Animals need our help.
What role do you see photojournalism playing in the animal rights movement?
Photographs and video are the most popular medium nowadays, so I think photojournalism is essential to the animal rights movement. Whether by documenting the realities of animal suffering during investigations, showing the different personalities of animals at sanctuaries, or giving a glimpse into a possible plant-based future, visual storytelling may be the key to raising awareness and empathy in people. Consumers need to be educated, so they can make informed ethical choices.
We need more professional photojournalists, as “visual storytellers,” covering animal rights topics, including documenting organizational work. Documenting investigations with professional-quality imagery can reveal the oppressive system that gives rise to institutionalized animal abuse. The public needs to see that what’s happening to animals is part of a broader social problem in how we think about and use animals. That’s the message I’m trying to convey with my work.
Other social causes are taken seriously by photojournalists. We need animal rights topics to be taken up by general photojournalists, too. This important cause needs to become part of the mainstream, opening up new audiences, supporters, and resources, and driving change.
You point out that animal rights photojournalism needs to be integrated into the mainstream world to advance the animal rights movement. We love this!! 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?
Encouraging other photographers is quite a challenge since most of them are involved in eating animals too. Photojournalists are already devotedly working on social justice topics. I would point out that animal rights issues are just another social justice issue, one with a large scale and severe direct consequences, for humans too. It’s just another case of discimination. I see it as our duty as artists and photographers to seek truth and enlighten the public.
As animal rights issues become more exposed and animal rights photojournalism becomes more and more integrated into the mainstream, I think we will see more photojournalists engaging with the topic. We need more funding and paid opportunities, as not everyone is in a position to be always volunteering their time and skills. A few well executed and marketed animal rights photo projects, including exhibitions, that appeal to a general photo audience may help “advertise” the field and inspire more people to get involved.
I would say a similar thing to the media. Due to the urgency and vast scale of the topic it should be considered their responsibility to educate the public and offer solutions for leading a less destructive lifestyle. I would highlight both the neglectedness and importance of the topic, including all of the many negative effects of consuming animals now and into the future.
Your project "Making the Connection" is about animals but no animals are depicted. What stories do these images tell?
I photographed many, many confined animals inside horrible factory farms, bred and fattened until slaughtered for food. Nobody really knows what’s happening to animals or understands how vast the scale is. Billions of animals are kept in often windowless factory farms hidden away from our cities and the consumers’ eye. Profit maximization causes 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 “Making the Connection,” I’ve chosen a more conceptual, subtle approach, hoping the viewer is more likely to join me in examining the issue. “Making the Connection” 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 in these places, allowing them to imagine the plight of the animals.
Is there anything else you'd like to add?
I encourage other people to use their skills to contribute to a better world as well. Find out what you are good at and what you love doing, then use it effectively to advocate for those whose voices go unheard.
Thank you Timo! Your work is so powerful.
Interview by Anna Pippus and Jo-Anne McArthur for We Animals. All images except satellite images copyright Timo Stammberger; investigative photography created in collaboration with Animal Equality. Satellite images copyright Google, Map Data, GeoBasis; and Microsoft, Here, DigitalGlobe.