Elderly Animals Artist Statement
Over the last several years, I have visited farm animal sanctuaries across America to create intimate photographic portraits of geriatric animals. Farm animals usually don’t have the luxury of growing old; most die before they are six months old. As a result, my images present these animals very differently from how people typically envision them. By revealing the beauty and dignity of farm animals in their senior years, I ask viewers to reflect upon what is lost when these animals are slaughtered at a young age.
With this work I strive to depict the unique personality of each animal I photograph in order to illustrate that farm animals are emotional sentient beings. Many of the animals in my project were abused before they were rescued. Gaining their trust can take considerable time but is essential to my process. I spend several quiet hours with each animal I photograph. Before taking any pictures, I often lie on the ground next to the animal to help him or her become comfortable with me.
For this series I have also photographed elderly companion animals. I juxtapose these images with my farm animal portraits to exemplify the similarities among these animals and to invite inquiry into why we pamper some animals and butcher others.
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. But after meeting rescued farm animals and hearing their stories, this project became more than a therapeutic exercise for me. I became a passionate advocate for these animals and I wanted my images to speak on their behalf.
A particularly difficult aspect of this project is that the animals I photograph usually die within weeks to months after I meet them. Grief initially inspired this work and it was my constant companion as I created these images.
Elderly Animals will be published by the University of Chicago Press in the Fall of 2018.
Several images from Elderly Animals 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 funding from the Houston Center for Photography and the Silver Eye Center for Photography.
Download this Artist Statement.
Elderly Animals Film
The following short film was created by Walley Films about Isa’s Elderly Animals project. Filming was done in San Antonio, Texas and in Kendalia, Texas in May 2011. Warm thanks goes to Wildlife Rescue & Rehabilitation for letting Isa and the Walleys film at their sanctuary.