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2021 SPE Annual Conference: Imagining Legacy: Archives, Collections, and Memoria

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Isa Leshko

SPE Member since 2015
Member Chapter: Northeast

Allowed to Grow Old: Portraits of Elderly Rescued Farm Animals

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 have photographed. 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.

Rooster, Age Unknown

Abe, Alpine Goat, Age 21

Teresa, Yorkshire Pig, Age 13.

Ash, Broad Breasted White Turkey, Age 8

Zebulon, Finnsheep, Age 12

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