In September 2012, Team Earthling interviewed me for their wonderful blog and they have allowed me to repost it here. Please make sure you support them, listen to their podcasts and have a browse through their blog! Thanks Team Earthling!
Team Earthling: How long have you been vegan?
Tamara Kenneally: I turned incredibly strict vegetarian 20 years ago, following my older sister and my best friend. Incredibly strict meant no gelatine, no animal-based food additives, no leather, no silk etc. The transformation to vegan happened 6-7 years ago and it was so easy.
I remember at about 14, my mum asked me to cut up some chicken off the carcass. I remember saying then, ‘I don’t think I’ll be able to do this for the rest of my life.’ Slowly, the option of not having to eat animals dawned on me.
Team Earthling: In what way do you think veganism is important, if at all, to animal rights?
Tamara Kenneally: Loving, respecting and fighting for animals doesn’t include eating animals, so it’s of the utmost importance. Being able to understand the suffering that the animals went through to be able to be the meal on your plate is the first step in fighting for animal rights.
Team Earthling: How long have you been a photographer?
Tamara Kenneally: I’ve been photographing animals seriously since I was 15 years old, so nearly 20 years.
Team Earthling: Talk about your journey to being a photographer.
Tamara Kenneally: I always had a fascination with photography, even when I was a child. My first dog, Buddy, came into my life when I was eleven years old and my love for him spurred me onto capturing his beauty on film. Buddy learnt how to pose for the camera with ease and would wait until he heard the shutter of my camera until he moved.
At 15, I studied photography at high school and got my first film slr camera. Even from then, all my subjects were animals. My passion in life, ever since I was a toddler, has been animals. My main work in high school was my dog, Buddy, and horses. Scoring near perfect marks in high school, I moved onto a photography school for two years after that where my work was still all animal based. I explored the use of gelatine in film at this stage, as I was torn between being a strict vegetarian, who didn’t eat anything with gelatine in it, whilst always using film which did have gelatine in it. The dilemma nearly ended my love after with photography, until digital photography came along and I no longer had to use film. I exhibited the work about gelatine and it was interesting to see the reactions of people who didn’t know what gelatine was.
From then on, I managed a photography lab whilst still taking photos of animals in my spare time. I then studied a bachelor of fine art photography at RMIT. My work at university covered the human use of horses over time and my final year there finished with my body of work entitled “Sentient Beings”. “Sentient Beings” was a series of twelve photographs of chickens, sheep, cows and pigs exhibited with text panels explaining what actually happens to these animals to get the food on your plate.
Team Earthling: What inspires you to make such beautiful photos?
Tamara Kenneally: Animals. The beauty and truth of animals inspires me daily. My passion is, and always has been (and always will be), animals.
I often wanted to photograph slaughterhouses and animal cruelty situations in my early days. I wanted to be a photo-journalist who documented all about the meat industry and about animals being used by people in society. I used to take photographs of dead animals that I found around paddocks and such, but I did it with such a heavy heart whilst crying the whole time. So, I decided to concentrate on taking images of free and beautiful animals, showing their personalities and their true selves.
Team Earthling: What brought you to realising you could use photography to promote animal rights?
Tamara Kenneally: It was never actually something I ever realised as such. I always photographed animals and I always loved and respected animals so much that my work was always animal rights based from the beginning without me really ever thinking about it. One of my first pieces of work related to the use of choke chains on dogs and that was before I’d started taking photographs of farm animals.
Team Earthling: Talk about the reactions of people when you’ve had exhibitions with animal rights/animal photos? Do you intervene or does the art do all the work?
Tamara Kenneally: Having exhibited my work quite a lot, it has given me the chance to watch reactions to my work a great deal. When exhibiting my series “Sentient Beings”, I had pamphlets from Compassion in World Farming available to be taken home. All 300 pamphlets ended up being taken home by the public. I also had countless emails responding to that particular show, with many people vowing never to eat meat again. I very rarely intervene at exhibitions, unless people come up to me to talk about the work and then I’ll have a chat about the issues and the animal’s plight.
Team Earthling: The thing we love about your work is that it really shows animals as individuals, as persons. When we see your animal photos, it feels like you’ve captured people, not animals. Explain how you’re breaking down that speciesist barrier in your photos.
Tamara Kenneally: I spend a lot of time with animals, animals of all kinds. Every single animal I’ve ever had the honour to spend time with has been an individual. Some are shy, some have great senses of humour, some are eccentric, some are cranky, some are depressed and some are full of love for everything. So, in my mind, animals are exactly like humans with diverse and interesting personalities. The big difference between humans and animals is that most animals do not have a chance to choose the life they want for themselves.
Taking portrait photographs of farm animals is not something that a lot of photographers do, mainly because it’s not something that can earn you money. Farmers don’t want portrait photographs taken of their sheep or chickens that they are sending to slaughter, so it’s not something you see a lot of photographers doing. I don’t do it for the money, or lack of it, I do it for the animals. If people get to see the beautiful, individual animal I see through my lens and learn their story and name, it may make them think twice about what they are eating.
I also have the great joy of being able to care for 4 rescued sheep and 34 rescued chickens. Being with these animals everyday makes me want to share with the world how amazing farm animals they actually are.
Team Earthling: What advice would you give to any photographers/artists out there who want to use their work to help animals?
Tamara Kenneally: Don’t expect money!! You need to put money aside and make money from some other source to be able to continue to get your work out there and help animals. Stay passionate, it’s easy to give up and be distracted by other things. Try and stay in the loop of the animal rights movement. Read about what’s happening to animals in all areas.
Spend time with animals. This is the single most inspirational aspect to me. Spending time with animals reminds me again and again why I do this and who I’m doing it for. If you don’t have animals, volunteer at a farm sanctuary near you. My favourite farm sanctuary is Edgar’s Mission in Willowmavin (Kilmore) in Victoria. I have been blessed to be able to spend lots of time there over the years, just me and the animals, and that is when I produce my best work – when it’s just me and the animals.