Powerful Portraits of Rescued Farm Animals Who Were Allowed to Grow Old

Animal Photography by Isa Leshko

Phyllis, Southdown sheep, age 13
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Photographer Isa Leshko is terrified of growing old. After caring for her mother with Alzheimer’s disease, she was “forced to confront her own mortality,” but she intended to face this fear in an unconventional way. Leshko began visiting farm sanctuaries across the U.S. to snap pictures of the geriatric animals that lived there. Over the course of nearly a decade, however, the project shifted focus from being a vehicle for Leshko’s anxiety to activism. She now uses her images as a way to speak on behalf of these creatures.

The resulting series called Allowed to Grow Old features subdued black and white portraits that capture the animals in their habitat. They offer a dignified yet unflinching look at the hard lives these creatures have endured. Some, like Buddy (a 28-year-old Appaloosa horse), are blind and suffer from arthritis; and Violet, a 12-year-old potbellied pig, is partially paralyzed. Their stories are tragic, but not unique. “Nearly all of the farm animals I met for this project endured horrific abuse and neglect prior to their rescue,” Leshko writes. “It is nothing short of a miracle to be in the presence of a farm animal who has managed to reach old age.”

The heartbreaking images demonstrate Leshko’s respect towards her resilient subjects, which comes down to her approach to photographing them. “Rescued farm animals are often wary of strangers,” she explains, “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.”

Allowed to Grow Old is now a book that features Leshko’s photographs as well as biographical notes on her subjects. You can get your own copy on Amazon.

In her series Allowed to Grow Old, Isa Leshko creates dignified farm animal photos of geriatric creatures that have been rescued from factory farming.

Black and White Animal Photography

Abe, Alpine goat, age 21

Farm Animal Photos by Isa Leshko

Violet, Potbellied pig, age 12

Farm Animal Photos by Isa Leshko

Forest, Santa Cruz sheep, age 16

Farm Animal Photos by Isa Leshko

Bessie, Holstein cow, age 20

Black and White Animal Photography

Handsome One, thoroughbred horse, age 33

Farm Animal Photos

Babs, donkey, age 24

Black and White Animal Photography

Rooster, age unknown

Animal Photography by Isa Leshko

Tessa, Yorkshire pig, age 13

Animal Photography by Isa Leshko

Buddy, Appaloosa horse, age 28

Farm Animal Photos by Isa Leshko

Blue, Australian Kelpie, age 19

Animal Photography by Isa Leshko

Zebulon, Finnsheep, age 12

Black and White Animal Photography

Zebulon and Isaiah, Finnsheep, both age 12

Black and White Animal Photography

Ash, domestic white turkey, age 8

Animal Photography by Isa Leshko

Kelly, Irish Wolfhound, age 11

Isa Leshko: Website | Facebook | Instagram

My Modern Met granted permission to feature photos by Isa Leshko.

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Sara Barnes

Sara Barnes is a Staff Editor at My Modern Met and Manager of My Modern Met Store. As an illustrator and writer living in Seattle, she chronicles illustration, embroidery, and beyond through her blog Brown Paper Bag and Instagram @brwnpaperbag. She wrote a book about embroidery artist Sarah K. Benning titled 'Embroidered Life' that was published by Chronicle Books in 2019. Sara is a graduate of the Maryland Institute College of Art. She earned her BFA in Illustration in 2008 and MFA in Illustration Practice in 2013.

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