The daily life of a pig may seem like a topic ripe for an idyllic book, full of countryside and pig sties, however, the pig-life at the focus of Perspectives Part 1, a new book from Fabian Zapatka (1978, Germany), is unfortunately not quite so normal. Then again, perhaps that is just a matter of perspective. Documented in 23 colour images is the normality of life (and death) for pigs in a laboratory for animal testing that practices vivisection, that is, surgery on living animals for research purposes.
The book starts off slowly, building the setting, introducing us to the surgical and medical environment and the pigs in their pens oblivious to their purpose. It is not until we see the apparently healthy ‘specimen’ comatose and wrapped in gold blankets against hyperthermia that these two separate perspectives begin to merge. Before long, images of the pig with catheters and syringes filled with blood trailing off the table fill the pages.
Turning page by page, it’s possible to stay optimistic about the fate of the pig, right up to the last few pages – a slit chest cavity and an empty table confirm to us its ultimate fate.
The emotional impact is not present in the images themselves – Zapatka has taken on a gaze as cold and scientific as the doctors and researchers who perform the operation. His approach of taking us step by step through the process further enhances this documentarian feeling: Zapatka withholds his own viewpoint, remaining an objective observer. However, by photographing the process at all, by drawing our gaze to the seeming sterility of our relationship with life and death of animals, he activates the viewer’s internal line of questioning, enabling an emotional reaction in the process of reading the unfolding narrative of a pig’s lifetime under a researcher’s care.