Tamara Kenneally is a Melbourne, Australia-based photographer who has been photographing animals for more than 20 years and has an enormous portfolio to show for it. She sees animals as individuals who deserve happy lives, and says that she tries to tell their stories through her work.
Tamara also runs a small animal sanctuary, Lefty’s Place, which is home to rescued sheep, chickens, peahens, duck, turkeys, dogs and cats from a variety of backgrounds. Through the residents at Lefty’s Place, Tamara shows the unique personalities and stories of animals we’re used to thinking of simply as “food.”
She has hundreds of images on her Facebook page, many with informative and heartfelt captions. Together, the albums show both the nature of how animals are used and deprived as commodities, and how they prefer and deserve to live.
Which came first for you: animals or photography? Can you tell us a little about your path to where you are today?
Animals came first. I was one of those children who would spend her days standing at the gates of paddocks staring longingly at other people’s ponies. I was that six year old who would pretend to be a dog all day long, even going to the extent of wanting to eat my food off the floor! When I was 11 years old, my mum and dad decided it was time for me to care for my own dog. My dog ended up being a four-month-old Border Collie named Buddy who was advertised as a free-to-a-good-home dog in the paper. My love and bond with that dog made me want to capture my love for him in a medium I could keep with me forever. He made me pick up a camera. He taught me how to take photographs from my heart and that is still how I take photos to this day – from my heart.
Mother and baby on display.
From 15 years old, my camera very rarely left my hands and I started shooting all sorts of animals and animal rights issues that I was interested in. I went vegetarian at 15 (and vegan later down the track) after it dawned on me that my love for animals and my consumption of them was complete hypocrisy. I went on to study photography for a total of five years at two different institutions with all the work I produced being animal rights related.
From there I really have just kept wanting and needing to take photos of animal related issues, but now I do tend to take a lot more happy images of animals as well and that helps my heart wade through the sadness of the awful things that I often take photographs of.
Some of your photos are heartbreaking. Do you struggle with getting people to look at your work? If so, how do you deal (both emotionally and pragmatically) with people's reluctance to view your work?
I used to exhibit my work in galleries a lot and I found that it was incredibly easy for viewers to just walk on by without looking. These days, my work is mainly viewed via social media and I try and litter my posts with happy images so that people are always expecting positive images. This keeps the audience looking and watching and I can often catch them off guard when I post a distressing image. It seems to work. If people are always expecting images that confront them and their views, they will look away and never look back.
Looking up at the wire cages where egg-laying hens will spend their entire, shortened lives.
Tiger in a zoo.
In your series "No Walks Today," you talk about a subject that is often neglected even by self-professed animal lovers: the lonely dogs we share our homes with and consider part of our families. What's your goal with this series? How do people react to it?
“No Walks Today” is a reflection of how we have selectively bred dogs in ways to conveniently fit in to our lives, but how we have forgotten who they really are and where they have come from. It’s easy to own a dog, so easy to purchase a dog and then not carry through with the responsibility of caring for that dog properly for the rest of his/her life.
Dogs are pack animals. They need to be in a family structure to be happy. The amount of dogs left in suburban backyards alone daily is huge. I grew up in a suburb in Australia. I grew up with sad, lonely dogs next door who where locked in a small sideway. They were never walked and never invited to be part of the family. Their misery was palpable.
Dogs need to be walked and daily. It’s so important to them. It allows them to be dogs. Dogs go crazy with no stimulation, no exercise and no company in a yard they never get out of. They literally go mad. There is often no thought put in to the responsibility needed when a dog is an impulse purchase and those are the dogs who are left to sit sadly in backyards for the rest of their lives.
Reactions to “No Walks Today” can be fairly confrontational. People with dogs become incredibly defensive about how well their dog is treated and I am often asked to prove that each dog in my photos is bored and lonely. Other people react with emotion and gratitude as it’s not an issue that is talked about a great deal, yet everyone sees it and these forgotten dogs are everywhere.
At Lefty's Place, your sanctuary for rescued animals, you document individual animals from the farms they're rescued from through to their new lives in relative freedom. Why do you tell these stories in this way? Is it important to depict individuals and stories of liberation?
I am passionate about people connecting with animals and re-assessing the way they think about them and use them in their daily lives. By following an animal’s story from being seen as nothing but a commodity and used for their body parts in farms, to seeing a loved, individual who enjoys every part of their life seems to make people stop and think. It’s so easy for us to think that animals in the agricultural systems are nothing, that they are no one and I find that focusing on individuals and their own unique stories really does make people aware of the individual suffering that these animals are subjected to.
I often hear the words, “They don’t know what they are missing out on” or “This is what they know. They are happy in the farm”. My depictions from farm to sanctuary life completely throw these quotes out of the water. Watching a hen's rescue story from farm to freedom via photographs is a powerful experience for many viewers. They connect with that animal so much that they do end up thinking more about the animals in their own lives, the animals they use day to day and animals in farms everywhere.
I have one ex-battery hen, Bobby Bob Bob, who is loved by thousands. My facebook community has watched her journey from caged egg layer to quirky poster girl for Lefty’s Place over the years and she has her own fan base. She is truly loved by people who have never met her. She is someone to them and people are invested in her life and her story, which is amazing.
Bobby Bob Bob at Lefty's Place. You can follow her incredible journey from farm to freedom here.
How is photojournalism important to the animal rights movement?
Images are so important for the animals trapped in agricultural industries. Our lenses and lights are the tools to show the world the animals that are hidden away from us all. It is the only time anyone sees them for who they truly are – individual, unique beings who are trapped in the most horrific cycle of abuse. Animal rights photojournalism is a medium that is changing hearts and minds, it may be changing them slowly, but the boom of social media has strengthened the hold of how we can use these images to implement change for animals.
Egg-laying hens in a free-range farm.
A free-range farm after the animals were sent for slaughter at 18 months when their productivity declined. These stragglers escaped being caught and were left for dead without food or water.
Good photographs are powerful. Using our specific skill sets is important to create change. There is no money in it. There is a great deal of anguish, frustration and hard work in it, but there’s more to living on this planet than money. There’s truth, integrity and kindness and that is what photojournalists who concentrate on animal rights images are striving for. We need more great photographers to pick up their cameras and tell the stories of these animals.
It's apparent with your work that you've witnessed lots of animal suffering at the hands of humans. How do you stay hopeful in the face of so much tragedy?
I find documenting animals in farms incredibly upsetting. I suffer immense anxiety for days before doing the work. I find walking away from the animals and leaving them there devastating. Whilst taking images of animals on farms, I am quiet and fast. I talk to the animals, but I keep my emotions in a place where I can’t access them so that I can work and work fast.
An ex-dairy cow with a swollen udder pleads for help. She is awaiting slaughter.
When I go through the images on my computer the next day, I am hit by a wave of emotion and despair and my hope for a better world crashes in to tiny pieces. The truth is though, that my hope and my resolve to keep going lies within the animals in my life who show me how much they love their lives on a daily basis. My hope also comes from the good in people. Most people are horrified at how animals are actually treated. There is good in everyone, it’s just a matter of people knowing the truth and finally deciding to make a change in their diets to help animals. It takes some people longer than others, but the ones with the big hearts who know in their souls that exploiting animals is wrong, usually always make a change. Those are the people I hang my hope on.
I also hang my hope on all the amazing animal rights activists who are telling stories, showing images and telling the truth. My hope also hangs on all the sanctuaries that take in the animals that nobody else cares for and shows the world just how amazing, funny and unique they actually are.
Thank you Tamara! You're a true warrior for animals and we couldn't be more grateful.
Interview by Jo-Anne McArthur and Anna Pippus for We Animals. All images copyright Tamara Kenneally.