I posted this originally in 2012. Today, it seemed appropriate to repost. I have updated a few areas and added the artist statement. I think this is a lovely thing…
Here is anew book, ALLOWED TO GROW OLD, coming out this month!
“Allowed to Grow Old” Artist Statement
For nearly a decade, I have visited farm animal sanctuaries across America to create photographic portraits of geriatric animals. I began this series shortly after caring for my mom who had Alzheimer’s disease. The experience had a profound effect on me and forced me to confront my own mortality. I am terrified of growing old and I started photographing geriatric animals in order to take an unflinching look at this fear. As I met rescued farm animals and heard their stories, though, my motivation for creating this work changed. I became a passionate advocate for these animals and I wanted to use my images to speak on their behalf.
For each image, I strive to reveal the unique personality of the animal I photograph. Rescued farm animals are often wary of strangers, and it can take several days to develop a comfortable rapport with the animals I photograph. I often spend a few hours lying on the ground next to an animal before taking a single picture. This helps the animal acclimate to my presence and allows me to be fully present as I get to know her.I also work only with natural light to minimize the amount of gear I am carrying in order to be as unobtrusive as possible.
Nearly all of the animals I met for this project endured horrific abuse and neglect prior to their rescue. Yet it is a massive understatement to say that they are the lucky ones. Roughly fifty billion land animals are factory farmed globally each year. It is nothing short of a miracle to be in the presence of a farm animal who has managed to reach old age. Most of their kin die before they are six months old. By depicting the beauty and dignity of elderly farm animals, I invite reflection upon what is lost when these animals are not allowed to grow old.
Allowed to Grow Old will be published by the University of Chicago Press in April 2019. The book will feature portraits from this series as well as essays by NY Times bestselling author Sy Montgomery, Farm Sanctuary co-founder Gene Baur, and curator Anne Wilkes Tucker.
Several images from Allowed to Grow Old were made possible by funding from the Culture & Animals Foundation, an organization dedicated to advancing animal advocacy through intellectual and artistic expression. Learn more at http://www.cultureandanimals.org. In addition, this project has received financial support from the Houston Center for Photography, the Millay Colony for the Arts, and the Silver Eye Center for Photography.
ORIGINAL STORY FROM 2012
If you’d like to read the original story where the photos will be larger, click here.
I am terrified of growing older,” Leshko confessed. “Taking care of my mother solidified this fear … I have realized that I’m photographing elderly animals as a means of confronting my fear of aging, and I’m immersing myself in that fear in order to dilute its power over me.”
‘Moments of happiness’ ?Leshko has learned something on her four-year photographic journey: While it’s relatively common to see pet dogs and cats live to a ripe old age, it’s highly unusual to encounter an elderly farm animal or a geriatric wild animal. To find photo subjects, she’s traveled around the country to animal sanctuaries — havens for aging wolves, geese, monkeys, roosters and more.
She keeps her gear to a minimum (goats, in particular, enjoy rooting around camera bags), and she spends hours with animals on multiple visits so they grow accustomed to her. Sometimes she’ll just lie on the ground near the animals for hours without taking a single shot.
“Animals are actually very challenging to photograph in a meaningful way,” said Leshko, who lives in Philadelphia. “It’s really easy to create images that are cute or anthropomorphic, and I’m definitely aware of that risk. My goal is to create images that are nuanced and honest, not sentimental.”
That’s what makes the photos so special — and so arresting. When seeing a 33-year-old horse or a 28-year-old goose depicted in a dignified yet unflinching way, it’s difficult not to dwell on the inevitabilities humans and animals share.
And, regardless of where a person falls on the meat-eating vs. vegetarian spectrum, it’s also hard to avoid thinking about an animal’s ability to experience pain and fear, as well as pleasure and contentment.
Consider the tale of Teresa, a 13-year-old Yorkshire pig featured in Leshko’s “Elderly Animals” series. When she was 6 months old, Teresa and other unnaturally overweight pigs were loaded onto a three-tier truck bound for a slaughterhouse. The driver opted to stop, drink and rest in Washington, D.C., and he left the truck parked on a downtown street. People heard loud squeals coming from the truck and called to report it — and, ultimately, the truck and the animals were confiscated.
When found, the pigs were dehydrated, filthy and extremely stressed, and they could barely walk because of their size and swollen joints. Some died from their conditions — but Teresa, for one, got sent to the Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen, N.Y., where Leshko found her more than a decade later.
On the day of Teresa’s photo shoot, the pig was resting on some hay and making soft little grunts as she basked in the sun. Her unabashed contentment deeply affected Leshko.
“This animal was still able to find moments of happiness in her life after what she had experienced,” Leshko said. “It still chokes me up when I think about it.”
Older cats, dogs need homes ?Leshko has not completely banished her fears of aging. She happens to look very much like her 72-year-old mother, so quick glances in the mirror can give her an eerie sense of time travel.
Isa Leshko uses a manual film camera and describes herself as a “ruthless” self-editor. “I discard much of what I shoot,” she said.
Leshko’s mother now lives in a nursing home equipped to care for Alzheimer’s patients. Her maternal grandmother also had dementia when she was older.
“I’m terrified of developing it too,” Leshko said. “Whenever I lose my keys or forget an appointment — or forget anything — I get nervous.”
Despite that, she’s encouraged by the aging animals she’s encountered. She loves it when an animal stares down her camera with defiance and self-assurance, and she noted that every animal she’s photographed is a testament to a powerful desire to live. Even the ones with serious physical limitations and harrowing backgrounds, like Teresa, still manage to find joy and pleasure in life.
Though she didn’t intend for it to happen at the project’s outset, Leshko has become passionate about encouraging people to adopt elderly companion animals.
“These animals generally do not fare well in shelters because people prefer to adopt kittens and puppies,” she said. “Yet, older animals can be wonderful companions and there are numerous advantages to adopting a mature animal.”
She’s worked with the Friends for Life no-kill shelter in Houston, Texas, where she met two lovable 16-year-old cats named Casanova and Romeo. The cats are brothers, and they have no health problems or behavioral issues.
“They had been surrendered to the shelter simply because they were old,” Leshko said. “These two cats were beautiful and sweet and their only flaw was that they were old. It was heartbreaking.”
Leshko knows her desire to generate greater empathy for elderly animals — and to explore aging overall — might be a hard sell in a culture obsessed with youth. But she’s glad to be photographing older animals anyway.
“I’ve come to realize that these images are self-portraits, or at the very least, they’re manifestations of my fears and hopes about what I will be like when I’m old,” Leshko said. “I want them to inspire others … to engage with their own attitudes toward aging and mortality.”
To see more of Isa Leshko’s “Elderly Animals” images and learn more about her work, check out this slideshow and visit Leshko’s website. You also can visit exhibitions of Leshko’s photography in Houston and Pittsburgh soon. Her show at the Houston Center for Photography runs from April 27 to June 23, and her show at the Silver Eye Center for Photography in Pittsburgh opens in mid-May.
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I HAVE BEEN OUT OF TOUCH…. If anyone has a Bucket Fund story – a horse in DIRE need, please send a link and contact information. Thank you!