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 photograph. 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. In order to be as unobtrusive as possible, I do not bring any studio lighting into the animal enclosures and instead work only with natural light.
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.
The rescued animals who are featured in Allowed to Grow Old resided in sanctuaries dedicated to the rehabilitation and long-term care of farm animals. The animals at these sanctuaries come from a variety of situations. Some are found wandering the streets after they’ve escaped from trucks en route to slaughterhouses. Others are rescued from hoarders or backyard butcher operations that got out of control. Many are abandoned during natural disasters or when farmers can no longer afford to feed them. On rare occasions, the animals are beloved pets whose humans can no longer care for them. Most animals, though, come from dire situations. They tend to arrive at sanctuaries gravely ill and require extensive veterinary care. Some do not survive, but the ones who do are given a home for the rest of their lives.
Below is the list of sanctuaries that Isa visited while working on Allowed to Grow Old. Please consider supporting their work. Most sanctuaries offer guided tours from late spring to mid-fall as well as volunteer opportunities.
Farm Sanctuary’s NY shelter also hosts several live cams of their barns and pastures. When working in her studio, Isa keeps the sheep or turkey cam running in the background so she can be soothed by the sounds of happy animals.
Catskill Animal Sanctuary
316 Old Stage Road
Saugerties, NY, 12477316
PO Box 354
Chatham, NY 12037
Farm Sanctuary Northern CA Shelter
19080 Newville Road
Corning, CA, 96021
(This location closed in 2018.)
Farm Sanctuary NY Shelter
3100 Aikens Road
Watkins Glen, NY, 14891
(607) 583-2225 ext. 221