Aliza Eliazarov’s On the Farm: Heritage & Heralded Animal Breeds in Portraits & Stories
A Book Review by Nikos Linardakis, M.D.
Reading Time: 6 minutes
To admire the beauty of farm animals and inspire your imagination, check out the stunning book On the Farm. The collection of quality portraits by renowned photographer Aliza Eliazarov is filled with 256 pages of cleverly designed images showcasing farm animals we all love and want to nurture.
The book begins to mesmerize readers with its first portrait staring directly at you on the cover. “Sheep are vulnerable, shy, social, and sweet. They may be the scaredy-cats on the farm, but they’re also the resident fashionistas,” writes Aliza in her page-turning book. We also learn short and memorable information, such as how wool is “strong, elastic, fire-resistant, absorbent, warm, protective, durable, biodegradable and renewable.”
After initially thumbing through this impressive and voluminous book with delightful behind-the-scenes anecdotes and engaging side-note narratives, I quickly recognized that each animal is emphasized by the masterfully arranged dark or light backgrounds. The beauty of a portrait setting accentuates the presence of the subject, as I would want for my own family portrait. Each picture is inspired by a deep connection of the farmers, their lives, and, of course, the animals and their interactions.
When we consider our community, we see a stronger heritage breed that has been in the world for hundreds of years. Robust and not overgrown. These provide the work, milk, and meat with traditional — instead of commercial — breeding. As part of a Greek family, I was brought up to appreciate animals. My father always wanted me to understand farming, and to anticipate the demands of growing to scale. Creating strong animals from breeding is a benefit, but it’s important to keep the diversity in the livestock so that inbreeding or genetically modified farm animals are limited. This enchanting book brings together images of animals while emphasizing the need to foster the heritage breeds to help these beloved and often critically endangered species.
Aliza Eliazarov’s talent in photography appears through the eyes and emotions of these living creatures. Photos are taken individually, with offspring, or as a family. As if almost knowingly, these animals display their charm and personality when together. The inviting photographs are full of artistry and not at all clinical in composition. I know that lighting is crucial, and I’ve learned this over the years from my friend, Walter Tabayoyong. He is a well-known Hollywood and headshot photographer, and he has experimented with natural, studio, and on-location lighting (which are essential for the final outcome). Aliza captures that lighting in each remarkable animal the same way Walter manages to enhance features in a human figure. Her lighting is perfectly placed, and it creates dynamic shadows that inspire you to look over all the essential details of God’s creations. Beyond techniques she’s mastered, her portraitures capture the essence, personality, and history of each animal. She makes each photograph rich and soft in character, while it transcends parts of each generation from an heirloom breed. Her camera holds this fullness in one clean and captivating image — you can almost feel her watermark on each photograph.
One portrait that stood out to me was “Chamomile,” an Angora goat that provides mohair fiber. Her beauty is exquisite. Because of the photographer’s skill with her camera, her perfect timing, and the goat’s effortless beauty, I nominate the goat as the award-winning animal of this book! The goat’s almond eyes, surrounded by her flowing hair coat, make her look like she stepped out of a salon. Her perfect ringlet curls, side-set ears, and her warm colors are fascinating. It sounds strange to describe an animal in this way, but the majestic aura of this kindhearted goat is almost imperial.
I’ve also learned about the Navajo-Churro sheep, raised primarily to provide their quality wool fiber for rugs and other weavings. Although the breed at one time had as many as 500,000 sheep in the United States, there were only about 500 sheep remaining in the late 1970s. Fortunately, conservation efforts have brought the numbers to nearly 5,000.
In another image, the American Cream draft horses appear together, dearly protecting one another, with fewer than 2,000 known to be in existence. Having been a stamp collector when I was a child, I recently found out that the United States Post Office commissioned Aliza for a heritage-breed stamp set, which will feature ten varieties. What a collaborative endeavor to share the importance of these animals alongside the book. I can’t wait to buy a set and keep the stamps protected inside.
Among the pages (and stamps) are the American Mammoth Jackstock donkey with its goliath physique, the Narragansett turkey with its impressive red neck, and the golden-champagne-colored draft horses with amber eyes all side-by-side. These animals are sure to fascinate the young and the old. Thankfully, a San Clemente Island goat made the final postal service selection committee acceptance and will be featured as a stamp. Congratulations!
Shot at the farm and on location with the animals — along with tractors, hay, or soil within the stable, shed, or barn — Aliza transformed the settings into her own photo studio. That is when the magic begins. After observing and connecting with the animals by reviewing their personalities and giving them treats, the work set into motion. With her masterful work behind the camera, Aliza quietly transformed the animals into lasting portraits.
Modestly priced at $30, this is an exceptional fine-art photo album and book that is well-printed with colorful shots and high-quality binding by publisher Ten Speed Press. I encourage you, and everyone who loves animals, to purchase a copy of On the Farm. This is a chance to enjoy museum-quality portraits of animals in your own home, and it feels as if you spent time on the farm yourself. I don’t want to call it a coffee table book (although it could be the perfect addition to your home décor), as you will find it to be much more than this. It is a happy place, a feeling of security, and a connection to our wonderful farmers and their animals. It truly is a winsome gift that allows readers to enter the farming world.
Family. That is the one word I would use to describe the aura of this book. Your children and grandchildren will immediately feel the connection. I know you will likely be amazed when you open its pages and instantly feel tranquility and connection. You will soon agree that it is an enticing read and heartwarming book that your entire family will relish. My father (who was from a small farming village in Greece and became a medical doctor) also used to say, “We all spend half our lives trying to get off the farm by working hard in any other work, and then the other half of our lives, we find that we want to get back on the farm.” You can accomplish this in one day by reading On the Farm! Enjoy your heritage, even for a moment, with the affection and companionship that resonates from this stunning book.
Dr. Nikos Linardakis is president of The Bêne Baby Company, a goat milk-based toddler baby formula company in Nekoosa, Wisconsin (www.BeneBabyCompany.com). Nikos speaks often about the health benefits of goat’s milk, and he shares some of his own photography on Instagram. He is a physician executive and published author of several medical books with McGraw-Hill Co. in New York, and most recently a book of poetry, “LOVE: Poems of Longing.”
Aliza Eliazarov is a renowned animal photographer. Her new book On the Farm is available online at https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/611731/on-the-farm-by-aliza-eliazarov/ or anywhere books are sold (ISBN 978-1-9848-5740-8). Visit https://alizaeliazarov.com/ for more information.
Originally published in the July/August 2021 issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.