October 24 – December 6, 2019
Reception October 24, 2019 7-8:30 PM
Gallery Talk Susan Rosenberg Jones at 6:15 PM on October 24, 2019
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.
Isa Leshko is an artist and writer whose work examines themes relating to animal rights, aging, and mortality. Her images have been published in The Atlantic, The Boston Globe, Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, The Guardian, Harper’s Magazine, The New York Times, and Süddeutsche Zeitung. In April 2019, the University of Chicago Press published her first monograph, Allowed to Grow Old: Portraits of Elderly Rescued Farm Animals, which included essays by activist Gene Baur, NY Times bestselling author Sy Montgomery, and curator Anne Wilkes Tucker.
Isa has received fellowships from the Bogliasco Foundation, the Culture & Animals Foundation, the Houston Center for Photography, the Millay Colony for the Arts, and the Silver Eye Center for Photography. She has exhibited her work widely in the United States and her prints are in numerous private and public collections, including the Boston Public Library, Fidelity Investments, the Harry Ransom Center, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.
Isa—whose full name is Isabell Carmella—grew up in Carteret, New Jersey, in an Italian-American working class family. She received her BA from Haverford College, where she studied cognitive psychology, neurobiology, and gender studies. She spent a decade working for dot.com startups before she discovered her passion for photography. She currently lives in Salem, Massachusetts, with her domestic partner, Matt Kleiderman, and their cats Alfred and Higgins. Isa has also lived in Houston, Texas; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Providence, Rhode Island.
These images appear in “Allowed To Grow Old” published by University of Chicago Press in April 2019.