“You give me the pictures and I’ll give you the war!” newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst reputedly instructed a staff artist who failed to find fighting in Cuba at the outset of the Spanish-American War in 1898.
Joe Adreon Keller (November 21, 1947––October 13, 2021) gave Animal Factories co-author and Animals’ Agenda magazine co-founder Jim Mason the pictures he needed to ignite the war against factory farming, early in the modern animal rights movement, that became the vegan revolution of today.
This is Jim Mason’s appreciation of Keller’s almost invisible contribution of images that have now been seen by and have moved many millions of people.
Joe Keller, by Jim Mason
Joe was among the most unsung heroes of the animal rights cause.
Like others whose activism and contributions have made a difference, yet whose names and faces are not known, Joe struck a big first blow to animal agribusiness. His photo images in Animal Factories, my 1980 book co-authored with philosopher Peter Singer, shocked the public and made the book get national attention.
Thanks to Joe’s photography, vivid black and white images of layer hens in battery cages, pigs in steel crates, and crowded “broiler” factories were shown for the first time to the nation on NBC’s Today show in July 1980, and on CNN, and on morning television shows in New York, Chicago, and other major cities. Some appeared along with reviews in Christian Science Monitor, Money, and other major publications.
Alice Herrington & Peter Singer
Those photos and Animal Factories, the book, came about because of another unsung hero of animal rights––Alice Herrington (1919-1994), founder of Friends of Animals. After founding the first low-cost spay/neuter clinic in the U.S. in 1957, Alice a few years later launched low-cost spay/neuter nationwide with her system of vouchers to pay participating veterinarians.
Alice around 1974 arranged for me to meet Peter Singer, who at the time was putting the finishing touches on his 1975 book, Animal Liberation, which became the book that empowered activists of the much older animal welfare movement to become the animal rights movement.
Alice urged us to write new book specifically to expose factory farming, which was then largely unknown to the general public, and which Singer had only briefly discussed in Animal Liberation.
No American animal welfare organization of that era had any noticeable programs or literature on farmed animal exploitation.
Peter agreed that we should write a book exclusively about factory farming. He insisted that we include photographs of the systems. Peter had taken a few photos inside factory farms for Animal Liberation, so he knew the impact that such photos would have on readers. Peter believed that words alone could not describe factory farming systems, and readers would not believe the descriptions anyway.
Smells & scenes made first photographer ill
I set off to find a competent photographer who was willing to travel with me and get images of factory farms, or what agribusiness then and to this day terms “confinement” or “intensive” animal management. This was not easy. The first photographer to go with me soon backed out because the smells and the scenes made her sick.
Then I found Joe Keller through contacts with friends I knew in SoHo, the part of Manhattan that was up-and-coming for its underground scene of artists and writers in the 1970s. Joe balked at first. From an affluent New York family, he was not inclined to take much interest in farmers and farm country. Eventually he came around and got interested because of, he said, the “weirdness” of the project and the adventure of roaming around the Midwest (what New Yorkers call the “flyover” states).
I spent over two months traveling around the country in Joe’s Chevy van visiting factory farms to take those photos for Animal Factories. In those days animal agribusiness had not yet experienced protests from animal and environmental activists. Joe and I were welcomed in, as the farm managers were proud of their high-tech machinery that took the place of labor-intensive animal husbandry. We spent entire days inside those horrid places, lighting and shooting images from all angles.
“We stunk for days”
Joe, the consummate artist, was determined to produce the most shocking images. At one stop, he wanted us to go down into the manure pit––a kind of basement––under a battery egg factory just to get the image of thousands of poor layer hens trapped in cages over piles of their own poop. We almost died down there because the ammonia and other toxic gasses were, we found out later, poisonous.
When we shot in pig factories, we stunk for days. We showered and still stunk. We put the stinky clothes in a plastic garbage bag, but they still stunk up the van We were always doing laundry at some dismal laundromat in some dreary rural town.
It was not a pleasant trip. Aside from the daily assaults of the sights, smells, and sounds of suffering animals, Joe and I suffered other miseries.
One of the most miserable was one snowy night in Missouri. I had friends––hippies––living on a farm near Columbia, Missouri. We were trying to get there for food, friendship, warmth, and socializing. It was dark and cold as hell and snowing and we were getting lost on the rocky, rutted gravel backroads.
Snow & exhaustion
At one point we were so blinded by the snow and exhaustion that we realized we were off the road and in some farmer’s field. No cell phones in those days. Somehow, we finally found my friends’ house. But there was little comfort. They had barely moved in and had no extra beds or rooms. A wood stove gave some warmth in one room, so we slept on the floor there. Of course the fire went out in a few hours and Joe and I were freezing and miserable.
Throughout these ordeals, Joe stayed steady and motivated. I don’t think we ever fussed or fought over anything. As you may know, it is hard to travel long distances confined in a vehicle with someone without having a few conflicts. I recall such good times on the road with Joe––despite the ugly, stinking factory farms and the dreadful, barren landscapes of rural Iowa, Mississippi, Nebraska, Missouri, etc.
The Animals’ Film
Not long after our book was released in 1980, I brought Joe to a party with friends who lived in SoHo. There he met my friend, Myriam Alaux, an animal rights activist who had become vegan after seeing factory farms in France.
At that time, Myriam was busy with the production of The Animals Film. Her feature-length film (with Victor Schonfeld) shocked audiences around the world when it was released in 1981. It became most controversial because its moving images of animals suffering in factory farms and laboratories were, for some, unbearable to watch.
Joe Keller and Myriam Alaux bonded, became inseparable, married, and lived together in Portland, Oregon until his recent death.
Shouted out cruelties that words could not express
Joe’s photos made Animal Factories shout out the cruelties that words could not express. He busted his butt getting those photographs.
And he spent long tedious hours in a darkroom producing the best black and white prints. He had the skills, equipment, patience, perseverance, artistic standards, and the integrity to produce the best images.
Most of all, he had that photographer’s eye. He knew what to look for, to capture, and went out of his way to get it.
I want to end by noting, that besides the importance of his photographic images in shocking the public into awareness of factory farming, Joe strenuously avoided bringing attention to himself.
Unlike the many in our movement who seem to give priority to self-promotion over the dirty work of activism, Joe Keller shied from the limelight.
He asked that Peter and I not put his name on the book, to not give him credit for the photographs. Joe Keller deserves full credit now.