Elderly Animals Artist Statement
Over the last several years, I have visited farm animal sanctuaries across the country 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 depicting 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.
I typically photograph the animals in my project at eye level because I want people to engage directly with them when viewing my images. I also print my images at a relatively small size (9 x 9 inches) in order to heighten the sense of intimacy in these images. I want people to get close to my prints in order to examine them.
For this series I have also photographed elderly companion animals. I juxtapose these images with my farm animal portraits in order to exemplify the similarities among these animals and to invite inquiry into why farm animals are treated so differently from dogs and cats.
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. After visiting a few farm sanctuaries though, this project became more than a therapeutic exercise for me. It became increasingly important that I use this work to advocate on behalf of farm animals. 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 project and it has also become an inherent byproduct of making this work.
Elderly Animals will be published by the University of Chicago Press in the Spring of 2018.
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.