Isa Leshko: Allowed to Grow Old
Some years ago I wrote about Isa Leshko’s poignant and important work with elderly animals-my feature was just one of many as the project had tremendous resonance with people all over the world. I am happy to share that the project is now a book, Allowed to Grow: Portraits of Elderly Animals from Farm Sanctuaries Old, published by University of Chicago Press. The book features her portraits of elderly rescued farm animals and includes essays by NY Times bestselling author Sy Montgomery, Farm Sanctuary co-founder Gene Baur, and curator Anne Wilkes Tucker.
When photographing these vulnerable animals who have endured horrific abuse and neglect prior to their rescue, Isa made the connection between her mother’s struggle with aging and alzheimer’s and her own consideration of mortality. “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.”
“I have received hundreds of deeply personal emails from people around the world, sharing with me their grief over a dying parent or an ailing beloved pet. At exhibition openings, I routinely receive hugs from total strangers who tearfully share their stories of loss. I am deeply touched that my work has affected people on such an emotional level. I am grateful for the outpouring of love and support that I have received for this work. But sometimes these encounters have been painful as well, particularly when they happened while I was mourning my parents’ deaths.”
Isa is about to open three exhibitions of this work–on April 26—June 7 at the Richard Levy Gallery in Albuquerque, NM, on October 3—November 16 at ClampArt in New York, NY and October 24—December 6 at the Griffin Museum of Photography in Winchester, MA.
Isa Leshko is a photographer who focuses on themes of aging and animal rights. Her images of aging farm animals are much admired and have been published in the Atlantic, Boston Globe, the Guardian, Harper’s, the New York Times, and elsewhere.
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.
For this series I have also photographed elderly companion animals. I juxtapose these images with my farmed animal portraits to exemplify the similarities among these animals and to invite inquiry into why we pamper some animals and butcher others.
Nearly all of the farm 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 inthe 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. – Isa Leshko
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