Released earlier this year, Allowed to Grow Old: Portraits of Elderly Animals from Farm Sanctuaries took author Isa Leshko to farm animal sanctuaries all over the country as she created photographic portraits of geriatric animals. The typical images we see of cows, chickens, pigs, and the like are of young animals. What would we see if they were allowed to grow old?
Leshko shows us with this collection of portraits. To create them, she spent hours with her subjects, gaining their trust and putting them at ease. “For each image, I strive to reveal the unique personality of the animal I photograph,” said Leshko in a statement. “Rescued farm animals are often wary of strangers… I often spend a few hours lying on the ground next to an animal before taking a single picture.”
She photographed the animals in their own environments and with natural light, so they would be as comfortable as possible. “It was essential that the animals I photographed were relaxed in my presence,” she said. With her close vantage point and comfort with her subjects, she captures the animals’ true facial expressions and essence. Two of the first animals she photographed were sheep at Winslow Farm in Norton.
Leshko began the series shortly after caring for her mom who had Alzheimer’s disease. “The experience had a profound effect on me and forced me to confront my own mortality… I started photographing geriatric animals in order to take an unflinching look at this fear,” Leshko said. “As I met rescued farm animals and heard their stories, though… I became a passionate advocate for these animals and I wanted to use my images to speak on their behalf.”
Leshko invites a dialogue about why we “pamper some animals and butcher others” with her juxtaposed portraits of some elderly pets.
Leshko’s work has been featured in the Atlantic, the Boston Globe, the Guardian, Harper’s, and the New York Times. Her book was featured in the Times Holiday Gift Guide as a recommended coffee table book.
“I’m hoping people who read the book might stop to consider these animals’ lives and recognize that they’re individuals with unique personalities and emotions,” said Leshko. “I invite reflection upon what is lost when these animals are not allowed to grow old.”