"On the Farm": An interview with photographer Aliza Eliazarov
We sat down (as in I sat at my computer and emailed Aliza who was sitting at her computer) with Aliza Eliazarov to learn more about her new photography book, On the Farm. The book highlights heritage breed animals from farms all across the country and features a few familiar faces from the National Colonial Farm.
Here's what she had to say.
Accokeek Foundation: You mention in the book that your inspiration for this photo project stemmed from a feeling of disconnect between yourself and the food you bought at the grocery store. Why choose livestock as your subject, and heritage breeds in particular?
Aliza Eliazarov: About a decade ago, this project began with photographing chickens. I chose the chicken for many reasons. Both chicken and eggs are such a common food source here in the US and I personally ate both quite frequently. I found that the backyard poultry movement was inspiring, accessible and gaining momentum across the country at the time. There is so much beauty, interest and variety in poultry, I was drawn to these sometimes elegant, sometimes comical and always entertaining birds. When I was hired to photograph for Modern Farmer Magazine, the kinds of animals I photograph expanded. I became interested in making classic studio portraits of rare and endangered breeds of poultry and livestock, in order to elevate these forgotten breeds and shed more light on the importance of conservation and maintaining biodiversity in our food supply.
AF: Have you achieved your original goal? How has this project deepened your connection to the food system?
AE: For me, learning about the food and fiber system will be a continually evolving lifelong journey. Since beginning this work, I have learned an incredible amount about the history of agriculture and animal domestication, the evolution and impact of the industrialized farm system, sustainable regenerative practices and how good farming can both help the environment and mitigate climate change. I grew to truly understand the importance of knowing and supporting your small local farmers. I now try my best to put my food and fiber dollars in the hands of folks who are dedicated to best practices, respect the land and love their animals.
AF: In addition to species and breed information, your book includes a number of stories about the animals you met on your travels. What did hearing these stories mean to you and did they impact your relationship with your subjects?
AE: Each story in the book tells something a little different and each one drew me closer to my subjects, deepened my understanding and piqued wonder, and reverence—whether it was Bilbo the rejected bottle-fed donkey or Annie the livestock guardian dog who loved the baby goats she protected. Some of the stories helped illuminate the hard work farmers do and challenges, rewards and heartbreak that comes with farming and raising animals.
AF: Do you have any behind-the-scenes stories to share about your experiences photographing at the National Colonial Farm? Do you have a favorite animal that you met on-site?
AE: Our shoot at Accokeek was special for several reasons!
Bonita, one of the Milking Devons, had just given birth to a calf 3 days earlier. The calf was so wobbly and beautiful. It was an incredibly touching experience to photograph them together.
We also came to photograph for a top-secret collaboration with the US Postal Service! A portrait of a Bonita will soon be on a USPS postage stamp in 2021, in a special series of Heritage Breeds! Being given the opportunity to photograph for the stamps has been my nerdiest dream come true!
AF: Do you have any pro-tips you can offer to aspiring animal photographers? Are there tricks to working with large, hungry, and sometimes horned subjects?
AE: Be patient and quiet. Spend time observing the animal, not just photographing. And most importantly - when it comes to photographing domesticated animals, bring treats. Treats always help!
Aliza's book, On the Farm, is out now and available for purchase online [Amazon] [Bookshop] or in stores. The Accokeek Foundation's Visitor Center gift shop will be carrying On the Farm when the shop opens in the spring.