Isa Leshko’s portraits of ageing animals are a tribute to creatures too often dismissed as mere livestock – and a poignant reminder of our own mortality
“When I began this project, my galleries weren’t sure people would want to buy the prints, because the pictures were too sad,” says the American photographer Isa Leshko. “So I put a film about the work online. Immediately I was flooded by emails with stories about ageing parents or pets, and when I showed the pictures at some exhibitions, visitors would come up to me in tears. I wasn’t prepared for that at all,” she says, “but I think it’s difficult to talk about the people and animals that we love growing old and dying, and the portraits give people a licence to express grief for someone.”
Leshko’s photographs, collected in her book Allowed To Grow Old: Portraits of Elderly Animals from Farm Sanctuaries, are of old and often rather weather-beaten farm animals. You need a bit of a nudge before you see what’s unusual about them – ie they are old, whereas most farm animals are dispatched to the abattoir in their youth (and in many cases in their infancy).
This could’ve been as dry as a rooster’s dust bath, but she describes their personalities like a post-pastoral EB White
Put out to grass: when animals are allowed to grow old