Elderly Animals Artist Statement
I am traveling to sanctuaries across the country to photograph animals who are elderly or at the end stage of their lives. I began this series shortly after I had spent a year in New Jersey helping my sister care for our mom who had Alzheimer’s disease. The experience had a profound impact on me and forced me to confront my own mortality.
Many of the animals who were photographed for this project were reared on factory farms before they were placed into sanctuaries. Others were beloved pets who were well cared for since an early age. Some of the animals in these images appear to be quite frail; others seem youthful despite their advanced ages.
Defining the age at which an animal is considered elderly is not always clear-cut. Modern factory farm animals have been genetically engineered to mature faster and grow considerably larger than heirloom breeds. For example, chickens are slaughtered when they are around 42 days old so a rescued factory farm chicken is considered geriatric at only a year old even though heritage chickens can live up to 8 years old.
In order to achieve a sense of intimacy in these portraits, I spend several hours with the animals I photograph and I try to visit them multiple times. Depending on the animal, I may spend an hour or so simply lying on the ground next to the creature before I take a single image. This approach helps the animal acclimate to my presence and it allows me to observe the animal without being focused on picture taking. A difficult aspect of this project is that the animals I bond with and photograph usually die within weeks to months after I meet them. Grief inspired this project and it also has become an inherent byproduct of making this work.
I am creating these photographs in order to take an unflinching look at aging and mortality. Both my maternal grandmother and my mom died while in the final throes of dementia. I am terrified of developing Alzheimer’s disease and I get nervous whenever I lose my keys or forget a person’s name. Photographing geriatric animals enables me to immerse myself in my fear of growing old. These images reflect my fears and hopes about what I will be like when I am old.
I also want my images to inspire greater empathy toward animals, particularly farm animals. It is very rare for a farm animal to actually live its full natural lifespan given that most of these animals experience brutality and death early in their lives. By depicting the beauty and dignity of these creatures in their later years, I want people to see farm animals differently and to challenge the way these animals are currently treated.
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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.