Important note: For those who are sensitive to graphic images, this blog post contains photos that depict the dressing down of a cow carcass, and clearly show some blood and animal parts.
One of the best parts of my job is working on photo shoots for the books I edit. I love being able to get out from behind the computer for a few days and collaborate with other people on what is often active, creative work. This summer, I was lucky enough to spend time at the photo shoots for Cooking with Fire. We worked long days and there was often physical labor involved, but we were also out in the sunshine and fresh air, and we were obliged to eat all the food we were photographing. I couldn’t complain.
The work that art director Carolyn Eckert and I did to organize the photo shoots for the two massive butchering books we worked on last year (Butchering Poultry, Rabbit, Lamb, Goat, and Pork and Butchering Beef) fell into a different category altogether. Retelling the experience of how we brought that shoot together could fill a book of its own. If nothing else, we both have dramatic anecdotes to share over the next hundred or so beers at the local roadhouse.
To prepare ourselves for the photo shoot, author Adam Danforth suggested we attend a slaughter beforehand. “You never know,” he said. “A lot of people either pass out or vomit when they see their first slaughter. You don’t want that to happen. Everyone present at the shoot should have seen an animal be killed before, so they know what to expect.”
Good point. I’d seen turkeys being killed in a slaughterhouse before, and even helped eviscerate them, but I’d never seen a large animal be slaughtered. I wasn’t sure how I would handle it.
Photo by Carolyn Eckert
So, we called up Greg Stratton, who does in-field slaughtering for farmers who are using the meat for personal consumption (an animal must be slaughtered in a USDA-certified slaughterhouse if it’s going to be sold to the public), and we arranged a time to come watch him slaughter a cow.
Greg and his team were calm, efficient, and organized in their work, performing what amounted to a well-rehearsed choreography. The scene was not nearly as traumatizing as I’d imagined. There was even another cow, some distance away, that seemed completely unperturbed by the process.
Neither Carolyn nor I passed out. We didn’t lose our breakfast, either, I’m happy to say. Carolyn brought her camera to get a few shots for her sample layouts, and to get a sense of the challenges our photographer, Joe Keller, would be up against. She says that being behind the camera actually helped her stay focused on simply observing the process, and not on absorbing how visceral it was.
|Greg at work|
Photo by Carolyn Eckert
|Photo by Carolyn Eckert|