Last summer, the photojournalist and animal rights activist Konrad Lozinski went undercover to document life inside an integrated pig fattening barn in Poland. “This photo was taken during the daytime, in the early morning, but only bits of light could get through the little windows of the farm’s building,” he tells me.
“I realized very quickly that this pig was in poor condition. He moved apathetically, as though every step caused him pain. Many, if not most, of the pigs here had fiery eye infections, including this one. Sadly, this is a very common problem on farms where pigs spend all their time in filth with poor to no ventilation. It is a perfect breeding ground for all sorts of bacteria.
“What strikes me every time I photograph places like this is that, even though we are their oppressors, animals still seem to crave some kind of contact–especially pigs. They are curious and like to interact. As soon as this pig realized my presence, he responded with interest. I can’t tell you much more about him, but I can say that he suffered a lot.”
This pig, photographed by Lozinski early that summer morning, appears on the cover of HIDDEN: Animals in the Anthropocene, a revelatory new book from We Animals Media. Edited by Jo-Anne McArthur and Keith Wilson and featuring a forward by Joaquin Phoenix, the 320-page volume includes the work of 40 animal photojournalists, documenting animal exploitation across six continents and two decades.
“There is a common, bloody and stinking thread that remains strong across all continents and cultures–and has done so for thousands of years,” Wilson says. “This thread is one that connects all animals as a resource, a commodity, for our use and abuse.” HIDDEN contains the untold stories of animals trapped in a world dictated by humans, including those who live and die behind closed doors in industrial farms, live transport trucks, sale yards, wet markets, and slaughterhouses.
The book documents the suffering of animals used in entertainment, sport, research, and labor, from the performing monkeys who endure beatings and starvation to the horses who are killed on race tracks or forced to pull carriages, from the beagles poisoned for research and experimentation to the bulls bleeding out in bullfights.
It is a heavy book, both physically and emotionally. For the photographers featured in its pages, this once-in-a-generation tome is the result of countless all-nighters and early mornings and, in many cases, a lifelong dedication to exposing a brutal truth many would like to keep concealed.
McArthur developed the idea for the book in her hotel room after spending a long night covering a night market in Taipei, when hundreds of thousands of fish, sharks, and stingrays were boxed, weighed, and sold. She saw people cut shells from the bodies of living turtles, their naked and exposed hearts still beating.
“We [the photojournalists in HIDDEN] have documented cows having their legs and skins cut from their bodies while still conscious,” she says. “We have witnessed minutes-old calves licked lovingly by their mothers, even as they are snatched away to live short, lonely lives so that humans can drink milk.
“We have seen despondent animals ceaselessly pacing their enclosures at zoos, hens standing on their dead cage mates, and millions of mink in fur farms skinned for the sake of fashion. In each case, these animals’ eyes look back at us, full of fear. In this broken and forsaken relationship, they have all the questions and we have all the answers. But none are given.”
Her words recall Lozinski’s pig portrait, made in Poland a year and a half ago. It’s been mere months, but in many ways, it feels like a lifetime; soon after that photo was taken, we would face a global crisis–a deadly disease born from that same broken and forsaken relationship we share with animals.
HIDDEN was released on November 17th; that same month, Denmark culled 17 million minks across more than 200 mink farms after a coronavirus mutation spread to humans. Many have resurfaced from the mass graves, forced out due to gas from their decomposing bodies.
Lozinski was able to photograph the conditions on that pig fattening farm and others like it without much suspicion in part because they’re legal. “This is systematic, everyday violence inscribed in contemporary animal agriculture,” he says. “And you can document it on almost every farm. I wouldn’t say the conditions of the animals on this farm were better or worse than everywhere else. After a while, you start to see the similarities, not the differences.”
The pig on the cover of HIDDEN would have spent a total of eighty days in that dark barn. He would have then been sent to slaughter about a month after the photo was made. “By the end of summer, he was already gone, along with the other pigs from this farm,” Lozinski tells me. “And then the cycle started again.
“All animals photographed in HIDDEN are ambassadors of change. Their expressions and stories should haunt and push us to act on their behalf. I am grateful that, because of this book, the voice of this pig can be heard by so many. This voice is an indictment of what we did to him and what we do to other animals farmed for food, entertainment, or fashion today. This pig was brought to life by us, but this gave us no right to determine it.”