If there is one common theme in Sage Sohier’s work, it is being witness to the often private ways that people experience love. The New England–based photographer has explored everything from her relationship with her ex–fashion model mother to the obsessive world of hobbyists. An animal lover herself, Sohier started photographing people with their pets in the 1980s and collected the work in a book, Animals, almost 40 years later.
Her newest book, Peaceable Kingdom, expands on the theme by diving into the world of animal rescue organizations. There are thousands of shelters in the United States, and most work with companion animals, such as cats and dogs. But Sohier also focuses on smaller organizations, often run by individuals or families, that aid different kinds of animals, like skunks and hawks.
Most of the time, these rescues are run independently by devoted people, so the animals may end up living in close proximity to their human rescuers. This makes for great pictures, and Sohier's photos highlight the humor and compassion that animals can bring into humans’ lives.
"Animals activate our best selves: They feed our desire for companionship and affection. They inspire us to nurture and protect," writer Sy Montgomery says in the book's introduction. Sohier's work highlights this sentiment, both within the more typical pet–owner relationship and with more unusual creatures.
Sohier took the time to answer a few questions by email about Peaceable Kingdom, including where the title came from and why rescue organizations are so important.
What was the most surprising situation you encountered while making this book?
I think the strangest situation was trying to photograph a household of 25 Chihuahuas and a very large iguana at the same time. These were not species that related to each other at all! The Chihuahuas moved as one, like a turbulent ocean with many waves, and the iguana was very still and zen, reclining on the back of an overstuffed chair. Although they did coexist peacefully, a good photograph of the situation proved elusive.
Can you talk about the title, Peaceable Kingdom?
Edward Hicks was a Quaker minister and painter in the 1800s who made over 60 “Peaceable Kingdom” paintings of various species of animals (predators and prey) coexisting peacefully, along with children. These were based on a quote from the book of Isaiah: “The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid.” It seemed a perfect title for my series, which is about different species relating to each other.
How common are the small rescues you encountered, and how do they operate?
Mom-and-pop rescues are extremely common. They start with someone with a good heart (often a woman) taking in some animals that she finds by the side of the road or in extremis in some other way. She becomes passionate about saving these animals, develops a reputation in her community for taking them, and suddenly finds herself with lots of animals in her home and backyard.
Eventually, she figures out how to apply to become a nonprofit so that she can raise funds to feed and house the animals more appropriately. Most of these people are not particularly well-to-do financially, so it is a real struggle for them and a triumph when they succeed.
Most people in the rescue world are unsung heroes — people who work quietly behind the scenes to help animals. They spend their time doing things that other people would find extremely inconvenient — like driving hundreds of miles, with no advance notice, to pick up animals in need. They not only dedicate their time and energy to their animals, but also much of their life savings. Sometimes they have to make difficult decisions about euthanizing unhealthy or aggressive animals, so it can be very trying emotionally. I love and respect these people, but I would not be resilient enough to do this kind of work myself.
Do you have any pets?
Animals have been a very important part of my life since childhood, when we had four dogs and I helped my mother raise an orphaned blue jay on our screen porch. I currently live with three rescue dogs, and I’m an enthusiastic bird-watcher.
Any final thoughts?
I hope that people will find the book moving, amusing, and informative, and that it will make them want to adopt rescue animals and donate to rescues. I hope it will bring them some joy and hope. We humans haven’t done well in our interactions with other species, but we’re starting to try to do better. Perhaps exposure to the efforts of some will help motivate others.