Age discrimination in the media doesn't stop with humans. Our collective obsession with youth extends to the animal world. Considering how much of the internet is given over to the extreme cuteness of kittens, how often do you click on images of elderly cats or glaucomic dogs at the tail end of their lives? How many ad campaigns show us horses past their prime or birds in their twilight years? Not often, and probably none.
Isa Leshko has set out to document old age in the animal kingdom with a series of beautiful photographs entitled Elderly Animals. Some of the subjects wear their age lightly. A 28-year-old Embden goose regards the camera with indifference and buries its beak in a stately expanse of feathers. Others seem more time-worn. With dimmed eyes and splayed legs, a 19-year-old Australian kelpie looks as weak and helpless as a newborn pup, while a wrinkled bronze turkey called Marino might have seen 100 years, not merely five.
Leshko, who lives in Houston, Texas, started the series after a year spent caring for her mother, an Alzheimer's sufferer, in New Jersey. It offered her an oblique way of dealing with her grief, but the project also allowed the photographer to "challenge commonly held assumptions about… animals in their later years" and "raise questions about what it means to be elderly".
Most of Leshko's subjects are farm animals and pets that have ended up in animal sanctuaries around America. It is commonly assumed that animals bred in captivity, excepting those reared for slaughter, live longer than their counterparts in the wild. We do our best to shield them from predators, injury and disease, and the amount lavished on veterinary care in the west – $43bn in America in 2009 – has undoubtedly added years to the lifespan of the creatures that keep us company. The oldest canine on record, an Australian cattle dog called Bluey, lived to 29, while horses have reached the half-century mark.
Determining the age of animals in the wild is much more difficult, but biologists have developed techniques to generate rough estimates. Growth rings in the scales, fin spines and vertebrae of fish, and on the shells of turtles, indicate how many winters they've swum through, and similar information can be gauged from the wax-like plug in the external ear of a whale. Other mammals can be aged by studying their teeth, and tagging is the surest way of keeping track of wild birds. The average lifespan of an Amazon parrot (80 years) is four times greater than that of a bottlenose dolphin.
It's not strictly true that all living things grow old and die. The jellyfish Turritopsis nutricula returns to sexual immaturity after reproducing and is believed to be biologically immortal. The rest of us, however, succumb to our age with weary inevitability. It's good to have work such as Leshko's to remind us that – be we horse, hound or human – there's more to life than youth.
Visit www.isaleshko.com for more information
Article from The Guardian