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Posted (edited)
I wanted to get some opinions from any fellow animal-rights-conscious/vegetarian/etc. photographers out there. I've only done zoo photography once (and never aquarium), many years ago, having since decided I wasn't comfortable shooting (or even visiting) animals kept in what must seem like prisons to a lot of them. However, it occurs to me lately that stock photography of zoos could potentially be used by those campaigning for the rights of animals.
 
Thus, I'm thinking of changing my stance. But I'm wondering if it would be hypocritical to profit off animals in these conditions. And of course, the photos could also be used to promote the business of animal confinement instead of question it. But I do know in some cases zoos do good work to take care of animals that might be in danger otherwise. So I'm trying to weigh all the factors.
 
How do some of you approach this?
Edited by KHA
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Well... firstly, you don't know where your pix will end up, or who will use them. That's just the nature of stock.

 

Secondly, you can express your feelings about zoos in the way you shoot... and you can put these feelings into words with tags and captions.

 

If you're concerned about the treatment of animals, then maybe you should do a photo essay and try to market it in some other way (or approach publishers)...

 

 

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Posted (edited)

I too don't like most zoos (along with factory farms, rodeos, bullfighting, and any activities that exploit and mistreat animals) and so haven't done much photography in zoos. As you say, there are some zoos that do good work. Personally, I wouldn't have any problem photographing animals in those. I visited the Belize Zoo, which has a lot of rescued and protected animals in their natural habitat, and I didn't feel uncomfortable there. The ethical dilemma that you mention is a tough one as we are all exploiting our subjects -- both non-human and human -- to some extent when selling stock photos. I've faced a similar quandary when photographing homeless people, so much so that I don't do it much any longer. Some of my images of homeless people have done well on Alamy. I can only hope that they have helped in some way to promote the cause of homelessness. However, we never know how our images will be used.

Edited by John Mitchell
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There are often restrictions on entry.

 

One of the things that worries me about the increasing trend to restrict photography ( National Trust for example) is that they end up being able to act as censor and stifle any criticism of what they are doing. 

 

You feel strongly about something then use photography to express it.

 

Capture images to illustrate your concerns about how animals are treated etc. But as with any principled stance you need to be sure that you are prepared to take the consequences.  

 

 

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KHA, I love that you have brought up this subject! I'm also very concerned with the ways animals are mistreated and exploited. I photograph at zoos, fairs, and anywhere that animals are kept, and trty to capture the whole spectrum of treatment they are receiving. I use several approaches. 1) I will highlight the way an animal is being mistreated, such as the spectacle of a farm animal giving birth in front of a throng of gawking people at a fair, with no shelter or place to feel safe or secure from the crowds; or the hypocrisy of miserable pigs in gestation crates underneath a sign that reads "We love our pigs!!"; or focus in on the sharp hook that a fair kid is holding to keep her cow in line; 2) I try to photograph animals in a way that they are truly seen as creatures with their own rich lives, despite their circumstances; and 3) I photograph at animal sanctuaries as often as possible to show how it can be for an animal that is happy and well cared for. It's also a great antidote to the unhappiness that comes from photographing exploited animals. I think that we do need photos of animals in all types of situations and that if done with care which you obviously have, these photos can be very useful. PS. thanks for bringing up this topic, one I would love to see more of here in this forum and elsewhere :)

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KHA, that is such a very big question. I wish you well on your journey to the answer.

 

 

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I have had the privilege of seeing animals in their wild homes and the confinement does make me uncomfortable even in the "good" zoos but I know that animals in the wild are often frightened and hungry and in danger of meeting a dreadful end. I have a hard time watching even wonderful nature films because in the wild you seldom see a "kill" and the ones you see almost always happen far away. It seems that nature films have some poor animal dying every fifteen minutes. The reassuring thing about zoos to me is the safety of the well-fed animals. Still, there is that pang that they cannot run. By all means, document the abuses but I think it doesn't hurt to show the good work that zoos and sanctuaries can do.

 

Paulette

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As one who is passionate about animal welfare (one of the first cartoons I made my grandchildren watch was The Meatrix) I try to highlight in my own way any animal "cruelty" I observe. One of my best selling microstock (I wasn't sure it was up to Alamy QC standards so didn't want to take the chance) images is of caged animals; and whilst I don't know where thy were used I can be certain it wasn't to promote this behaviour.

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Posted (edited)
1 hour ago, NYCat said:

I have had the privilege of seeing animals in their wild homes and the confinement does make me uncomfortable even in the "good" zoos but I know that animals in the wild are often frightened and hungry and in danger of meeting a dreadful end. I have a hard time watching even wonderful nature films because in the wild you seldom see a "kill" and the ones you see almost always happen far away. It seems that nature films have some poor animal dying every fifteen minutes. The reassuring thing about zoos to me is the safety of the well-fed animals. Still, there is that pang that they cannot run. By all means, document the abuses but I think it doesn't hurt to show the good work that zoos and sanctuaries can do.

 

Paulette

I’m with you on the wildlife shows. I know animals kill and eat animals. I don’t want to see a kill. I finally had to give up the part about learning about them because of the bad parts that made me cry.

I’m the person who holds a bird that flies into a window in my hands until it rouses, or buries it if it doesn’t.

Zoos? More and more, I feel for the animals’ captivity. Especially the cats that spend the whole day pacing a fence looking very stressed. That causes me emotional pain.

Yet I understand zoo breeding programs are saving some animals from extinction.

Conundrum.

I’m also the person who wants to join a lynch mob to take care of people who hurt children and old people.

Betty

Edited by Betty LaRue
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Thanks for all your responses. I do think it's a good idea to try to convey emotions (and facts, of course) about this issue through the medium itself, so I will keep that in mind with some of my framing. My previous time shooting the zoo, I specifically tried to find framing that would downplay the zoo aspect. But I feel better now about shooting after hearing the various ways some of you approach it ethically.

 

And for any of you out there who are vegetarians, I just have to mention, in case you haven't heard -- a huge milestone for us has been reached this week: KENTUCKY FRIED CHICKEN HAS LAUNCHED MEATLESS CHICKEN!! A personal dream come true for me, decades in the waiting. I won't be able to try it until they roll it out across the U.S., but I've been missing that one-of-a-kind KFC Regular, Extra Crispy, and BBQ batter all these years, so I'm excited that even that behemoth of meat has come around!

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3 hours ago, geogphotos said:

There are often restrictions on entry.

 

The place I'm planning to go prohibits commercial photography and tripods without arranging licensing through their media office, but I'm doing editorial. (And yes, I mark my editorial, "Editorial", because I want there to be NO DOUBT!)

 

3 hours ago, geogphotos said:

Capture images to illustrate your concerns about how animals are treated etc. But as with any principled stance you need to be sure that you are prepared to take the consequences.  

 

Perhaps it's those without principled stances who need to fear consequences  . . . 🙂  True passion makes you fearless.

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Posted (edited)
4 hours ago, Gina Kelly said:

KHA, I love that you have brought up this subject! I'm also very concerned with the ways animals are mistreated and exploited. I photograph at zoos, fairs, and anywhere that animals are kept, and trty to capture the whole spectrum of treatment they are receiving. I use several approaches. 1) I will highlight the way an animal is being mistreated, such as the spectacle of a farm animal giving birth in front of a throng of gawking people at a fair, with no shelter or place to feel safe or secure from the crowds; or the hypocrisy of miserable pigs in gestation crates underneath a sign that reads "We love our pigs!!"; or focus in on the sharp hook that a fair kid is holding to keep her cow in line; 2) I try to photograph animals in a way that they are truly seen as creatures with their own rich lives, despite their circumstances; and 3) I photograph at animal sanctuaries as often as possible to show how it can be for an animal that is happy and well cared for. It's also a great antidote to the unhappiness that comes from photographing exploited animals. I think that we do need photos of animals in all types of situations and that if done with care which you obviously have, these photos can be very useful. PS. thanks for bringing up this topic, one I would love to see more of here in this forum and elsewhere :)

 

This all sounds great, and glad the topic is serving a need! If you want to see more of it, speak up and start those threads!

 

I appreciate your attention to the dignity of animals, and as I photograph more and more of them, I notice a lot of them really eyeing me up, which makes me more conscious of their levels of consciousness. After posting recently in another thread about feeling guilty about a duck family that retreated under a car when I got too close, I had the opposite experience a week or so later, when a duck walked up so close to investigate me (or maybe it was just after food, but it had no interest in the Slurpee I proffered, which is all I had on me!), that I retreated a little a couple times because I thought it might take a nip at me! It just hung out inches from my lens for 20 minutes and let me shoot away, from all angles, and even moved a few feet away when it was time to urinate (or something), which I thought was considerate. I was worried it might be sick because its behavior seemed so extraordinary to me, and I thought it might just be coming up to me to die or something!

 

Alternatively, it also occurred to me that maybe it just loved the spotlight, and walked up to me and my camera for the same reason a lot of humans do!

Edited by KHA

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4 hours ago, Mr Standfast said:

KHA, that is such a very big question. I wish you well on your journey to the answer.

 

 

Thanks! I think I have it. Short trip!

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4 hours ago, John Mitchell said:

In Canada, photography has no doubt played in a big part in the banning of keeping whales and dolphins in captivity. There have been all kinds of images of whales -- both wild and captive -- promoting this cause in the Canadian media

 

 

This is a good way to look at it, thanks. I'll have to take a look at that link when I get a chance.

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As a vegan I've often posed this question to myself. I've decided that photography neither endorses nor condemns anything, it merely documents. I've never photographed in zoos and I'm not sure I would want to,  but I've photographed victims of abuse in sanctuaries and also "happy" cows (who are usually anything but) in fields. If I earn money from it then I have just a little more to spend on things which will help to promote veganism.

 

Alan

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Posted (edited)

This is a bit off-topic, but I think it illustrates how we really have no control over how our stock images might be used. I've had a number of evangelical Christian missionary groups contact me through my photo website asking me if they could use my Latin American images in their promotional material, etc. No doubt, these groups do sometimes carry out beneficial work. However, I've seen a lot of them in action in Latin America, and I think they usually do much more harm than good. As a result, I've always -- as politely as possible -- turned them down. These same groups can now find my images here and shop as they please. That's just the nature of the stock photography business, and it probably shouldn't be any other way. We have to like it or lump it, as my mother used to say. 😄

Edited by John Mitchell

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I have had problems with zoos for all of the above noted moral and welfare reasons for many years and hadn't visited one since we were taken in junior school. I left junior school in 1958 so that will give you an idea. Just the other day i thought I would visit one to see if they had changed and chose one that seems to have had a good reputation, breeding, re-introduction into the wild etc. for some long time. I came away a bit sad and ended up photographing the humans! One of the images is the first one one my home page.

Pete Davis

https://www.pete-davis-photography.com/

http://peteslandscape.blogspot.com/

https://www.instagram.com/petedavisphoto/

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It is a long time since I was at a zoo but actually visited a small one near me on Friday. I spent most of the day there even though it is possible to walk round it at a slow pace in 30/40 minutes. They call themselves a "Conservation Park" with the emphasis being on conservation and education. There was certainly plenty of information about on the fragility of a lot of breeds and on set days and times were the staff would carry out talks and visits to the animals, particularly for children.

 

I noticed that they were advertising quite a few staffing vacancies in various areas and disciplines and in walking round the park it was very obvious a lot of areas were showing signs of age and being run down although there is some attempt at revamping some small parts.

 

Yes my object was to photograph the animals and it seems that there are no objections to that by the management as they display visitors photos in their publications. To be honest I found it very difficult to photograph a lot of the animals due to the construction of the cages/pens etc., and because the overgrown trees and other plant foliage made certain areas rather gloomy.

I was able to get some photos but overall felt rather disappointed with my visit and came away with some of their gloom hanging over me.

 

If I ever think of visiting another zoo, and it could be a long time coming after the experience of this last visit, I would try to find one which has observation areas where it is possible for the public view the animals and get pictures without cages and close knit wire netting in the way. I have been to one like that a long time ago but cannot remember where.

 

Allan

 

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3 minutes ago, Allan Bell said:

Yes my object was to photograph the animals and it seems that there are no objections to that by the management as they display visitors photos in their publications. To be honest I found it very difficult to photograph a lot of the animals due to the construction of the cages/pens etc., and because the overgrown trees and other plant foliage made certain areas rather gloomy.

I was able to get some photos but overall felt rather disappointed with my visit and came away with some of their gloom hanging over me.

 

My recent experience was visiting a 'local' Wildlife Park around 40 miles away. It was a family get together, and my Grandson would hopefully have seen animals not seen at his local Bristol Zoo. Photography was a secondary interest. I shot more family pictures than of the animals. There were no photography restrictions. By the day end I felt similar to your comments quoted above, other than I wasn't disappointed with my animal photography, as I wasn't expecting too much.

 

One area that did concern me was the wolf area, wooded and viewed from an overhead pathway. Although it was lacking light under the tree canopies, (was shooting at a minimum of iso 4000 , F5.6 and around 50th sec, with the 70-300, not fast enough for the walking wolf) there was scrub close to where you would attempt photograph the wolves when they came close to you. A wolf, likely a female, had dug a pit to lay in. The other wolf, likely the male, was continually pacing back and forth from the rear of the wood to the viewing area. It never stopped walking and pacing. This isn't normal and concerned me. Other than this the wolves were huge and didn't look under fed. I found shooting the small train and station more interesting. Still have to look through what I shot, still working on yesterday photography.

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Why visit a zoo? 

 

If I want to see depressed primates I go to the pub.

 

Boom Boom

Edited by geogphotos
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I just want to sound a note of caution here - that of anthropomorphism.
The phrase "animals kept in what must seem like prisons to a lot of them"  suggests they interpret their conditions as a human would - they do not.  

There are good zoos, animal parks, etc on down the line to farms etc, and there are truly bad horrific ones.  Far more common are ones that manage some animals brilliantly and others not so well.

If you visit ask yourself first - and keepers second - What are the animals needs from basics food and water through to advanced behavioural ones and whether they are being met and how they are being met.  Do not make assumptions that certain things are being done for the benefit of humans.  For example a famous safari park near me runs boat trips and visitors can pay to feed the sealions.  The perception is the boats are there for the benefit of visitors and the feeding a way of getting more money.  The reality is the boats run 365 days a year including the roughly 3 months where there are no visitors - and the sealions are still fed from them.  The boats run to benefit the sealions - the sealions have to chase the boats to get fed and are fit sleek active animals.  The money raised helps the cost of running the boats.

Look at at the life expectancy and breeding records of the captive animals.  If the place is consistently breeding endangered species - and its residents are recording as having longer than average life expectancy then whatever it looks like the animals are happy and their complex needs being met.

Ask where the animals come from - if there is an animal or group in what seems hastily build accommodation it could be that the place has stepped in to meet an emergency rehousing need either from rejected pets, or illegal imports.  I know of various reptiles, and primates in different centres that have arrived this way - it can take time and money to provide full specification quarters.

Are there any old animals on display?  Old animals past breeding age that are not very exciting to look at - who appear maybe worn and decrepit.   A good centre will keep its old animals happy - and if that means them staying in quarters possibly on display when the space could be used for newer younger more fashionable creatures that would attract more money then you have a good place.  Some animals - especially with larger quarters, are happier being on display than being hidden away in cramped quarters to see out their final period of time.  

Ask the keepers - ask them what they are doing and why they are doing it and what happens when.  Do not assume because something looks bad to you that it is bad for the animal (and equally because it looks good for you that it is good for the animal).  Do not try to put yourself in their place - you are not that animal. 

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24 minutes ago, Starsphinx said:

I just want to sound a note of caution here - that of anthropomorphism.
The phrase "animals kept in what must seem like prisons to a lot of them"  suggests they interpret their conditions as a human would - they do not.  

There are good zoos, animal parks, etc on down the line to farms etc, and there are truly bad horrific ones.  Far more common are ones that manage some animals brilliantly and others not so well.

If you visit ask yourself first - and keepers second - What are the animals needs from basics food and water through to advanced behavioural ones and whether they are being met and how they are being met.  Do not make assumptions that certain things are being done for the benefit of humans.  For example a famous safari park near me runs boat trips and visitors can pay to feed the sealions.  The perception is the boats are there for the benefit of visitors and the feeding a way of getting more money.  The reality is the boats run 365 days a year including the roughly 3 months where there are no visitors - and the sealions are still fed from them.  The boats run to benefit the sealions - the sealions have to chase the boats to get fed and are fit sleek active animals.  The money raised helps the cost of running the boats.

Look at at the life expectancy and breeding records of the captive animals.  If the place is consistently breeding endangered species - and its residents are recording as having longer than average life expectancy then whatever it looks like the animals are happy and their complex needs being met.

Ask where the animals come from - if there is an animal or group in what seems hastily build accommodation it could be that the place has stepped in to meet an emergency rehousing need either from rejected pets, or illegal imports.  I know of various reptiles, and primates in different centres that have arrived this way - it can take time and money to provide full specification quarters.

Are there any old animals on display?  Old animals past breeding age that are not very exciting to look at - who appear maybe worn and decrepit.   A good centre will keep its old animals happy - and if that means them staying in quarters possibly on display when the space could be used for newer younger more fashionable creatures that would attract more money then you have a good place.  Some animals - especially with larger quarters, are happier being on display than being hidden away in cramped quarters to see out their final period of time.  

Ask the keepers - ask them what they are doing and why they are doing it and what happens when.  Do not assume because something looks bad to you that it is bad for the animal (and equally because it looks good for you that it is good for the animal).  Do not try to put yourself in their place - you are not that animal. 

 

I think this is a good point. I don't imagine I am the only cat owner who sees soft beds abandoned in favor of a too-small cardboard box. Our kitties seem to like being squished.

 

Paulette

 

 

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27 minutes ago, Starsphinx said:

The phrase "animals kept in what must seem like prisons to a lot of them"  suggests they interpret their conditions as a human would - they do not.  

 

Well, I may not know what a particular animal is thinking, as it paces around and around its cage. But that's no justification for keeping animals in captivity...

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I've been meaning to acknowledge newer replies, but I haven't had a chance. But I just quickly want to respond to Starsphinx. You make some good points. But ultimately, we're all souls in bodies here, man. Spirits in the material world, as the Police might say. The elemental rule of life is -- don't do anything to any creature's body that you wouldn't want done to your body. Because you may be gifted that body in the next life. Or perhaps even later in this life, as your body is subject to change in ways and through experiences you might never have imagined when you were young. That's the game, man. When you figure it out, you advance one step further around this seemingly endless board.

 

Gotta run. I have a zoo shoot to plan!

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