Neal Auch’s Dark Food Photography Is a Slap in the Face to Factory Farming (NSFW)

All images and words by Neal Auch. Used with permission.

I’m a fine art photographer living in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Most of my recent work concerns the commodification of suffering, and the ethics of eating animals. My work explores these themes by presenting animal organ meats that are intended for human consumption in an unfamiliar context where I hope that the underlying ugliness of our food system is exposed.

I took a somewhat chaotic trajectory to get to where I am now. My background is in pure mathematics, and I spent the better part of a decade in academia, doing rather esoteric research. Those kinds of jobs are almost all short-term contracts, so I moved around a lot. The frequent moves took a toll on my personal life, and my passion for the work I was doing waned. I hit a breaking point a few years ago, while I was living in the UK, and I rather abruptly abandoned my post there to come back home to Canada and settle into a more stable life with my spouse. To make ends meet I did contract work for a while and, in my spare time, I made a lot of art and I did a lot of introspection about what I wanted to do with my life. I stumbled into photography at this point and fell in love with the process. Since then I’ve devoted pretty much all of my creative energy to taking pictures.

I think that my work is somewhat unique amongst photographers. I look at a lot of photography and I tend to find that similar subjects, themes and compositions get used over and over again. While there’s nothing wrong with this kind of repetition — it often leads to beautiful imagery — I sometimes find myself wanting to look at something more unusual and distinctive. I hope that my work may be of interest to others who feel similarly, whether or not they share my interest in veganism.

What motivated you to go out and create the specific series or set of images that you’re submitting to us?

Like most of us, I was raised with a bucolic image of life on a farm: cows grazing green pastures while chickens scramble about the barn and pigs wallow lazily in mud pits. This image, however pleasant, is a fantasy that exists only in children’s books, and on the graphics that adorn processed food packages. The reality is that contemporary factory farms rely on cruelty and torture on an industrial scale. Most of the animals we consume will have lived lives of intense suffering: confined in windowless sheds, densely-packed into cages where the spread of disease and parasites is rampant, fed additive-laced foods that bear little resemblance to a natural diet, and subject to various surgical mutilations.

It is all too easy to forget about the cruelty and suffering that underlies the animal products we interact with daily, through our meals, clothes, and furniture. My work on the commodification of animal suffering focuses on meat products that are intended for human consumption; I buy everything that I work with at the butcher. My aim is to present these food products in an unfamiliar context, where the ugliness and cruelty of the industrialized farming system becomes manifest.

Talk to us about where you draw inspiration from.

In terms of visual aesthetic I am more inspired by painters than photographers. I’m drawn to the works of Goya, Bosh, Cezanne, Caravaggio, and a lot of Dutch still life paintings from the 17th century. My all-time favourite photographer is probably Diane Arbus; her work has definitely helped to impress upon me the importance of having a compelling subject matter. I’m also a big fan of Joel Peter Witkin, Jan Saudek, and Anders Petersen.

Talk to us about the gear that you use.

All of the work on my website was shot on a Nikon DSLR with either a 35mm F1.8 or a 50mm F1.8 lense. (My close-up work is also shot using a combination of these two lenses, plus extension tubes. For each close-up I take 10-20 raw captures and do focus-stacking in post-production to enhance the depth of field.) I use continuous lights and softboxes are my prefered light modifier.

What made you want to get into your specific genre?

I think I’m more drawn to specific subjects or themes than I am to a specific genre. Arguably my portfolio work spans several separate genres: portraiture, still life, and macro photography / abstraction. But these different genres and bound together by a common subject matter (dead animal organs) and similar visual aesthetic.

My choice of subject matter is, of course, informed by my interests and ethics. My work focuses on the ethics of eating animals and the cruelty of our industrialized food system because I’m a vegan and these are subjects that I’m passionate about.