How do you decide which animals are family, and which are food? Why are we surprised to see a rooster gazing out the kitchen window, or a hen investigating the laundry? After all, chickens are present in most homes, as flesh and eggs, just not as individuals with personalities of their own.
Since 2017, I’ve been making portraits of chickens living in their rescuers’ homes. I’ve met hens whose bodies were riddled with cancer, caused by the accelerated cell division associated with laying hundreds of eggs per year. I’ve cuddled roosters who were pulled out of the trash, where their first owners had dumped them once they realized the hatchlings they’d bought at the feed store wouldn’t be giving them any eggs. I’ve played with chicks smuggled away from religious sacrifice rituals and soothed roosters seized by police from illegal cock-fighting rings.
Hundreds of millions of chickens die every year to satisfy our appetites. Very few are fortunate to be rescued by people who only want to heal and care for them. Just like cats and dogs, these chickens become part of the family, loved for themselves rather than for what their bodies provide. I share their portraits with the hope that people will be inspired to take steps toward a world where animals live their lives free from exploitation by humans.
Janet Holmes has always loved animals, but for many years she was afraid to get involved with rescuing them because she couldn’t imagine how she would deal with the heartbreak. About five years ago, she decided that animals needed her more than she needed to be comfortable, and so she began volunteering with rescue groups as a caregiver and photographer. As she spent more time experiencing animals as individuals through the lens of her camera, she began questioning how she could profess to love them, yet continue exploiting them for food, clothing and other materials. She committed to become vegan and use photography to advocate for animal liberation.
Janet completed the International Center of Photography’s Continuing Education Track Program in 2015 and now devotes much of her spare time to portraiture of rescued animals. In 2017, she was recognized by Photo Lucida as a Critical Mass Top 200 Finalist, and she has exhibited her animal portraits in juried exhibitions in the United States, Canada and Europe. She is donating 50% of her profits from print sales for this project and sales from her Blurb book, “Why Would Anyone Rescue a Chicken?” to help individual rescuers pay for veterinary care for their chickens.