In my work I investigate the relationship between humans and other animals and how non-human animals are represented in countless ways in our culture. The meanings that are imposed on animals are so infinite that some of us forget that every animal is an individual. My “Sanctuary” project focuses on the inner lives of farmed animals and their existence as unique beings with emotions and characteristics as diverse as any human. I visited and photographed the animal residents at ten US farm animal sanctuaries, which are all dedicated to the rescue, rehabilitation, and lifelong care of abused and neglected farmed animals. A formal portrait was made of each animal to highlight his or her personality and convey dignity. The resulting photographs are black and white to emphasis a sense of tradition and to keep the focus on each animal’s expression. The portraits are titled with each animal’s name and where they reside to further personalize the image. I chose to photograph each animal alone, to remind the viewer that they represent the few survivors and “lottery winners” that now live in a safe, loving environment. This is in contrast to the billions of their species that will never make it to a sanctuary. With unbelievably few laws protecting farmed animals, these living, feeling beings are forced to live in tiny confinement crates, mutilated, mistreated, and deprived of even the most basic necessities.
I spent time with the animals I photographed observing and waiting until they approached me. Like many intriguing portraits the images show the relationship between the photographer and the sitter. I put myself in whatever position necessary in order to engage and make eye contact with each animal I photographed. This perspective also allows the viewer to engage with each animal. Just as I would when making a portrait of a person, I waited for something that moved beyond superficial depiction before I pressed the shutter. In some cases this was a subtle expression, a gaze, a change in body language, a mood, or an emotional exchange between the animal and myself.
While working on this project, I witnessed first-hand just how wrong the stereotypes about farmed animals are. I met many intelligent pigs (they are at the top of the “most intelligent animals” list- well above our beloved dogs and cats), and exceptionally clean ones at that. I witnessed strong bonds between mother and child and deep friendships between unlikely pairs, such as Barbie the hen and Rambo the ram who were snuggling together when I visited Catskill Animal Sanctuary. Each portrait of a safe, rescued farm animal is a plea to help those who are still suffering. I invite you to view the photographs with compassionate eyes and hope you will begin to see farmed animals in a new light.
Charta Art Books published this project as a book titled, “Sanctuary: Portraits of Rescued Farm Animals” in Fall 2012. In addition to my photographs the book includes handwritten stories about each animal by sanctuary founders and workers, essays by Karen Davis, president of United Poultry Concerns; Kathy Stevens, founder of the Catskill Animal Sanctuary; and Gene Baur, founder of Farm Sanctuary. Jeffrey Masson, best selling author of “Dogs Never Lie About Love” and “The Face on Your Plate: The Truth about Food” introduces the book. Through print and book sales this project has been raising and donating funds to the sanctuaries depicted in the book since 2010 and continues to do so.