Shooting Slaughter: A Q&A with Photographer Sheri Giblin

Photography by Sheri Giblin

Sheri Giblin does a wide range of work as a photographer. Pastoral images of grapes, beautiful shots of women walking through fields, close-up pics of fresh harvests. That kind of thing. These are the kinds of pretty pictures stock agencies love. It was slightly less intuitive that an agency would also be eager to snap up some of her less conventional images of slaughtered pigs.

"When Sheri sent us the pig slaughter images, we were in awe. Here was something so dark and gruesome yet she shot it in a way that brought a clear sense of beauty to the subject," says Keren Sachs, Head of Image Acquisition at Offset, a stock photography agency. "We all went crazy for Sheri’s work and still talk about the pig head. It’s not something you typically see in traditional stock photography."

We talked to Giblin about her work shooting pig slaughter.

Modern Farmer: Why’d you start shooting agriculture and pig slaughter?

Sheri Giblin: Well, as a food photographer it was only kinda natural to gravitate to agriculture images too. I live in Brooklyn now, but I lived in California my whole life. I lived in a rural area, though I also lived in San Francisco for 20 years. And my work, touching on the animal slaughter, has that in it.

MF: So, the pig slaughter: How do you shoot something that’s on the one hand so horrifying, but also so beautiful?

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SG: Good question. I just got this idea this idea in my head of of “Wow, I really wanna shoot this.” And some of it comes from the books I read. I’m a fan of Michael Pollan and “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” and I eat everything. So as an omnivore I felt it was my responsibility to witness where my food came from, not just the pretty package in the store. And as a photographer, I was compelled to photograph that experience. I’ve seen chicken slaughtered, and my dad was a deer hunter, but I’d never seen a mammal slaughtered. So I had that idea in my head that I really wanted to experience it and photograph it. There were two different slaughters that I shot, and they were very different. The first one — you know, it was interesting, it was hard to find someone to let me photograph it. Especially in Northern California, I was surprised.

MF: Do you think that they’re scared if they see pictures of slaughter they’ll stop eating meat?

SG: No, I think they are afraid of animal rights activists, showing up on their property and protesting. Maybe that’s very Northern California, actually. [laughs]. But yeah, I mean, some of it is a bit gruesome. And honestly, I wasn’t prepared. I thought they would tazer the animal, so when the slaughterer just put the gun to the boar’s head and the bleeding out of the animal, it was a little, uh, jarring. But then again, this is something I had not witnessed before. It did happen in a very organic natural way – the animal bled out back into the earth. I asked slaughterer why the animal was not tazered first, he reassured me that a shot to the head instantly kills the animal so they do not suffer. So there is no need to use a tazer. But at the same time, both slaughters that I photographed were about a humane way of slaughtering and very much about farm-to-table. But the way I captured it in my photos, is my style of photograph, it’s whatever I got drawn to. There’s this strange beauty to some of the animal parts. And I also was very interested because the pig is the animal that’s most, anatomy-wise, human. Which was interesting.

MF: What part of the slaughter surprised you the most?

SG: Probably the shot to the head.

MF: Did you always shoot food and agriculture?

SG: As a commercial photographer I specialize in food and lifestyle photography. The lifestyle part incorporates photographing people around the themes of food, travel, entertaining, agriculture, and so on. Commercially I have photographed everything from ad campaigns for the Chobani Yogurt and Dominos Pizza to cookbooks for Williams-Sonoma, national magazines or food packaging, In my personal photographic work, like any other artist, I photograph whatever I am compelled to explore and express.

MF: So after watching this slaughter and shooting it, what was it like eating your next piece of pig?

SG: Watching & photographing both slaughters did not shy me away from eating pork if that’s what you are asking. I do feel more respect for the animal, and I want to know more then ever where my meat is coming from. Meaning, I try to buy only from local farms. I understand much more what makes for a humane slaughter. The second slaughter, which occurred in upstate New York, included a lesson in butchery at the local butcher shop so I know all the animal parts — where they come from now. So when I do to cook pork, I’m understand it more. I mean chefs, they know all that, all the parts of the animal. So it’s great for your repertoire as a home cook.

All images are courtesy of Offset, a new stock photo agency with carefully curated collection of exceptional images from top artists around the world.

Shooting Slaughter: A Q&A with Photographer Sheri Giblin