For Linda Kuo, a veterinary hospital seemed like the perfect place to explore how animals exist in a world dominated by humans.
She had just been denied access for two other projects when she came across the Center for Avian and Exotic Medicine online, which bills itself as the only exclusive avian and exotic veterinary hospital in New York City. The staff was immediately receptive when she asked to photograph there, and gave her permission to shoot whenever, wherever over a period of six months last year.
According to Kuo, the hospital treats any animal that isn’t a cat or a dog. That includes familiar species, like rabbits and guinea pigs, as well as unusual animals, like flying squirrels and African parrots. Visually, Kuo said, it’s interesting to see how the animals look in a clinical space so far removed from their natural environments.
Kuo grew up with pets and has always loved animals, but photographing them only became a passion project when she moved from Manhattan to Pound Ridge, N.Y., a few years ago and stared seeing road kill every day while driving.
That evolved into her series, “Hit and Run,” which she hopes draws attention to habitat destruction and extinction.
Kuo considers herself an animal advocate, but her reasons for photographing them are more personal than political.
“I was bullied a lot when I was a kid,” Kuo said. “Now when I see someone else bullied or when I see things that don’t have a voice and they’re compromised, it’s a trigger for me,” she said.
But while Kuo’s photos are sometimes painful to look at, she said her aim is not to shock people into changing the way they consider how animals are treated.
“All my work comes from a point of positive reverence for my subject, not sensationalism,” she said.
In fact, Kuo said, she was really impressed by how the staff at the Center treated the animals in their care.
“I think they do the utmost of their ability given the circumstances they are given to treat the animals well. What I’m really impressed with is they haven’t become inured to the suffering,” she said. “If they lost a patient, they were still devastated. They were upset. It was crushing for them.”
Most people, however, are not as affected by the suffering of animals in a world that’s increasingly inhospitable to them. That, Kuo said, is why she photographs: to help improve awareness and sympathy for our other earthly inhabitants.
“When you plant a seed and people consider other things they wouldn’t have considered, people are transformed and they start to look at their lives differently. I think it’s a domino effect,” she said.