Like many photographers, I tend to use my work as a way of exploring new things and as a means of visually sharing the experiences I have as a human with other people. I’m often drawn to creating work about topics that I’m interested in or passionate about (usually involving animals). I hope my photographs encourage the people interacting with them to perhaps consider another point of view. I preface this post with this statement so that what I say next doesn’t make you roll your eyes and close your browser window.

In November 2019 I made the decision to become vegan… stay with me, I promise not to preach at you. I didn’t come to the decision because I watched a gory video online, or because another vegan preached at me until I gave in, I decided to ditch the consumption of animal products after meeting two calves at a farm sanctuary. We are all aware that animal products come from animals, however, most of us (myself included) choose to ignore the harsh reality of how farm animals are raised and slaughtered because if we thought too much about it, many of us would find meat and dairy difficult to stomach and then we’d have to make some changes. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like change much. So we shut the reality out, in fact, it’s shut out for us with neatly packaged meat, milk, and cheese at our local supermarket. The way we live makes the darker side of food production easy to ignore.

The baby cows I met were a wake-up call to choose to no longer be an active participant in the suffering of animals. I’ve never been a very enthusiastic meat eater, so dropping that was easy, although I did miss bacon a little bit. A vegan diet is tough. I didn’t go cold turkey straight away (pun intended), it took me a few weeks to totally drop the cheese. I’m still getting used to soy milk in my coffee (it will never taste as good as cow’s milk) and I do have to be really disciplined to say no to milk chocolate. I’m not doing vegan perfectly, there’s no such thing. I have dogs, they eat dog food, it’s made from animals, I’m not about to enforce veganism on them. I’ve got leather shoes and bags, I’m not about to throw them out, however, I shan’t buy anymore. Becoming more conscious about what we consume isn’t about being perfect, it’s about doing what you can from where you are.

The easiest way for me to convey my inspiration for being vegan is through my photography, so I shot a series of portraits of rescued farm animals (including the famous calves) that show them in their unique individuality. I photograph dogs mostly, so farm animals were a different challenge altogether. My hair got eaten by one of the calves (if it looks like straw, it might taste like it, right?), I narrowly escaped being head-butted by a goat (I have never been so terrified in my whole life) and the accompanying video for the series is punctuated by the interruption of a rooster.

My hope is that by viewing these images you’re able to connect with each animal as a sentient being, not just a source of food. I hope that this series gives you a bit of food for thought and that if you’re not inspired to ditch meat or dairy, you are inspired to buy your animal products more consciously and perhaps cut your consumption back a bit. I’d love to know your thoughts on this. All these animals are living out their lives at Asher’s Farm Sanctuary in Pretoria, South Africa.

More info: emmaobrien.photography | ashersfarmsanctuary.org

Murdoch, one of the calves that inspired my vegan journey

Super cute, thought that my hair was straw, clearly, it needs more conditioner.

Basil, possible part-time assassin

Persistently head-butted the outside of the stable whilst I was photographing Willow the pig, when we let him in, he gave me this look before rearing up and threatening to butt me. Thankfully he stopped before my camera went flying.

Libi the sheep

Chief photoshoot supervisor, wherever I was shooting, she was watching and joining in the conversation. She’s got ambitions of being an art director, if you know an ad agency with a vacancy, let me know.

Bev the goat, far less violent than Basil

Best friend with Babe the pig.

Babe the pig

Loves carrots and mud (but got the memo about being clean for her photos).

Juno the rooster

Constant conversation interrupter. Never lets anyone finish their sentence.