New Zealand photography Cally Whitham wants us to know animals as individuals not products, and has created a series of dramatic photographs to reconnect us with the beings that become the food on our plates.
Whitham believes that, as a society, we've lost the connection with the livestock that sustains us. Meat comes from cellophane trays at the grocery store—faceless pieces of protein. Instead of being animals we've raised in fields, they've become a product.
It's easier to accept factory farming when the animals themselves are an abstraction, so in order to reconnect with the animals themselves, Whitham began making portraits in a stunning Rembrandt-like fashion.
The photographs are made to look like paintings with post-processing and effects. By presenting these animals with a reverence for their beauty and the uniqueness of their breeds, Whitham is giving them their dignity back.
“I wanted to portray the animals as dignified individuals, photographed in a way that lent them a value, an importance, that was of the same weight as paintings of aristocracy or our ancestors,” says Whitham. “Our perceptions have changed but their importance has not. I wanted to give back to them a light they had lost.”
Being so disconnected from the animals we consume negatively effects our health, as well as the health of the animals.Whitman is not a vegetarian herself, but she does shop carefully, "If we're going to continue to eat animals, we must give them the best lives and deaths possible."
When we see a portrait hanging in a museum, we believe that they were important. She hopes that by photographing animals in a similar manner, we will be reminded of their importance, and that they deserve our respect.
To read more about Whitman's philosophy and process for capturing these images, visit nationalgeographic.com.
If you are haunted by these images of a cow peering right into you, you may also be moved by her Captive series.
And if you're interested in seeing the New Rembrandt, which was created by analysts, computers and over 160,000 Rembrandt paint fragments, visit The Guardian.