Animal Focus

Animal-Focus

Vegan photographer Jinki Cambronero tells us how she came to turn her documentary lens on Aotearoa’s animals, exposing cruel realities and celebrating unique personalities.

Jinki Cambronero is a professional photographer with a huge love for animals. In her commercial work she shoots creative people in a broad range of contexts and for her personal projects she enjoys turning those skills towards the animals. 

But we’re not talking about generic wildlife photography. Combining her well honed documentary skills with involvement in the vegan and animal rights communities, Jinki creates images that respect the individuality of her animal subjects and honour the deep compassion of the humans who fight for them.

Originally from Australia, Jinki has called Aotearoa home for the past 23 years — a slight overshoot on the two years she originally planned to spend here. With a background as a legal secretary and graphic designer, she eventually picked up photography while working in creative agencies. For the past five years, it has been her main career focus and she has been fortunate to have the things she is passionate about — such as performing arts and animals — play a major role.

“It’s been really organic, the right things have happened at the right time,” she says of her distinctive career path.

Veganism in Frame

Jinki’s love for animals stretches back to childhood, when she recalls crying over her mother swatting a fly, and desperately wanting to save the neighbourhood’s stray dogs. But, as is the case for most growing up, the suffering behind many everyday consumer choices remained hidden away.

“I think on a deep level, I knew things weren’t right. But I wasn’t in a position to deal with it, so I just compartmentalised, I put it away. I didn’t allow myself to think about it — I couldn’t cope with it.”

As she grew and experienced more of the world, what she calls the “voice of guilt” began to grow louder. Conversations with others and various media reports slowly piled up as evidence in the back of Jinki’s mind, and she found herself needing to make a change.

“Fried chicken was my favourite thing, and I remember the last time I had my favourite. I remember looking down at the plate and thinking, ‘I do not feel good about this.’”

For a time she adopted a pescatarian diet, but eventually came to fully reckon with the realities of our food system while attending a workshop with the prestigious VII photojournalism agency in New York in 2018.

“I remember sitting in this workshop, about halfway through, and thinking most of the people in this room are very serious about the things they want to talk about. It was at that moment I realised, if I’m going to make images about animals, I have to go vegan… otherwise the work has no integrity.”

Briefly wrestling with the idea of easing into veganism over a six month stretch, Jinki realised there was never going to be a “good” time to give up cheese. She decided to make the switch right there in the sky, flying home from New York.

“That was it: OK, I’m vegan now — time to make some work.”  

Chicken or egg?

One of the first animal issues to ruffle Jinki’s feathers, even before she went vegan, was the treatment of chickens in the egg industry. A news report on how many brands claimed the “free range” label while being nothing of the sort had her outraged and wanting to do something to help chickens (“while still eating their eggs”, she says with a rueful laugh).

It’s no surprise then, that some of her earliest work as an animal activist photographer involved shooting chicken rescues.

The chicken images featured here come from some of the rescue activities Jinki joined in on in her early days of veganism. At a free range farm rescue organised by the Matakana Animal Sanctuary, she got to meet the chickens outside on a beautiful morning, with a farmer who had properly cared for them.

“This was the first time I’d ever seen chickens wrap their claws. Someone told me it’s how they find comfort, and I was really touched by that,” Jinki explains.

“I’m really drawn to moments of connection between humans and animals, where they are showing an animal not usually considered ‘an individual’ the care and compassion and consideration they deserve as a sentient being.”

Unfortunately, not all the rescues are quite so pleasant; excursions to the factory farms are confronting, horrific affairs.

“I remember we had clear instructions to stay neutral; no crying. You just need to keep things as smooth as possible and as simple as possible.”

Protestation

As overwhelming as it can feel to push back against cruel, omnipresent industries, Jinki finds the experience of people joining forces to help animals is an effective buoy for the spirit.

“It’s nourishing to come together with other like minded people and do something practical. Doing something physical helps with emotionally dealing with all the knowledge that you now hold.”

Whether it’s a rescue or a protest, Jinki has a knack for capturing powerful moments of activists coming together for a cause. Even at her first animal rights march (Animal Rights March, Queen Street), the photographer’s ability to capture decisive moments is clear.

“The expression on that woman’s face was just so pained,” Jinki recalls. “It was exactly how I felt at the time as well.”

All the better if the scene includes a gorgeous companion animal, like the Rodeo Protest image featuring Charmaine from Pixies Animal Rescue and her little dog.

“I just love the expression on the Chihuahua’s face,” she exclaims.

Animal Connections

While Jinki has always been an animal lover, it doesn’t mean she’s always felt comfortable around all animals. She fell in love with the cows at Raglan’s Paws Awhile Animal Sanctuary, but it took a number of visits over a year to really get used to them.

“They scared me quite a bit because they’re so big!”

In time, the cows and photographer came to understand each other, and Jinki always had the committed sanctuary workers as guides. Many of her images created at sanctuaries capture the beautiful, compassionate connection between the animals and the humans that care for them. 

One of the most touching is an image of Anna Dahlberg from Paws Awhile curled up asleep with a sick bobby calf. Many of the rescued calves get sick because they don’t get enough colostrum before being taken away from their mothers.

“She had two calves that were really sick and she’s fallen asleep because she would have been up with these animals late at night,” Jinki explains.

“I love this image, it speaks to the exhaustion and the deep compassion.”

Another type of relationship Jinki strives to capture in her photography is friendships between animals. With patience and respect, she reveals sweet moments of bonding that speak to a universal social experience. Her image of Harry and Doanld is a beautiful example.

“Donald was having a very cheeky day, sticking out his tongue and trying to rark Harry up,” the photographer says with a chuckle.

“So many things are human-centred, animals are used like props, to convey something about the human. I like to try and show that they have relationships too; how do they relate to each other, what are their lives like?”

There’s a great diversity to the subjects and style of Jinki’s animal rights work, as there is in all of her photography, but they’re anchored by a few important themes: connection, compassion, care. When thinking about the work she wants to make, the photographer says she tries to offer up the sort of knowledge she would have appreciated in the days before going vegan.

“There are so many people like I was; we are animal lovers and think we’re against cruelty, but don’t understand how much we’re participating in it. Yes, it’s very confronting, but I think if you have a heart for animals, you get over it. 

“You just need the right bits of information at the right times.”

And with Jinki using her art to promote animal rights, that information has never been more stunning.     

To see more of Jinki’s photography, visit www.jinkicambronero.com.

“This was the first time I’d ever seen chickens wrap their claws. Someone told me it’s how they find comfort, and I was really touched by that.”

Vegan photographer Jinki Cambronero tells us how she came to turn her documentary lens on Aotearoa’s animals, in the latest issue of Aotearoa Vegan and Plant-Based Living — out now!

 

Aotearoa Vegan and Plant Based Living Magazine
This article was sourced from the Winter 2023 edition of The Vegan Society magazine.
Order your own current copy in print or pdf or browse past editions.

Disclaimer
The articles we present in our magazine and blog have been written by many authors and are are not necessarily the views and policies of the Vegan Society.

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