If Rembrandt Painted Farm Animals, They’d Look Like This

cally whitham photo

I find these images profoundly moving. That’s why I wanted to share them with you. What leaps out at me is the personality, the unique personhood of each individual animal, that Cally Whitham has captured in these photographs. Yes unbelievably, they are photographs. I have never seen photos quite like these. They really do look like they were painted by Rembrandt.

Murray grey cattle Cally Whitham photo rembrandt epitaph

Painfully impressed on the minds of us in animal advocacy, are the unimaginable numbers of farmed animals killed for their ‘products’ every day, all over the world. I guess to most others, they are just numbers – if they are even aware of them – abstract statistics of no significance, devoid of any connection with the shrink-wrapped meat in the supermarket trolley. But each animal in Cally’s pictures is speaking, with great dignity. “Can you see me? Can you hear me? I am not a number, I am a person.” 

“Beauty always takes place in the particular. Cruelty, on the other hand, prefers abstraction.”  Elaine Scarry, philosopher

“We come from people who used to be able to tell two sheep apart” (National Geographic) But in 21st century farming, animals are reduced to units, their worth estimated by their size, weight and market price.

Black turkey Cally Whitham epitaph rembrandt bird

“In modern times most of us have lost connections with the land and the livestock that sustain us,” says Cally. “Instead of knowing animals individually, we’re mostly just familiar with lamb, beef, chicken, or pork as a product. We have divorced ourselves from the land and the things we eat, reducing these noble subjects into so many pounds of flesh.”

Re-forming these lost connections is what motivated her to create farm animal portraits that look like a Dutch master’s paintings. She gave this project the poignant title, ‘Epitaph’.

tawny crossbreed ewe sheep call whitham epitaph photo rembrandt

“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. Our perceptions have changed but their importance has not. I wanted to give back to them a light they had lost.”

Wessex crossbreed pig Cally Whitham epitaph photo rembrandt

Because her pictures reach right into the animals’ soul, and show such respect for them as individuals, it came as a surprise to me that Cally does eat meat. I have no doubt though that these powerful pictures will stop people short in their tracks. And we can hope that the images will make them wonder about the person that was killed and turned into the slices on their plates.  

greylag goose cally whitham epitaph photo rembrandt farm animal

See what you think.

Source: National Geographic

To see more of Cally’s extraordinary work, visit her website here

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12 thoughts on “If Rembrandt Painted Farm Animals, They’d Look Like This

  1. Hi Chantal, you could email her. Her contact details are on her website. I emailed her myself but didn’t get a reply. As one fine artist to another, you may have more luck. I would be excited to see your work on these images! Sending you peaceful vegan love, Pam xx

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