Touching Photographs of Animals at a Wildlife Rehabilitation Sanctuary

Annie Marie Musselman

Annie Marie Musselman lives in Seattle and works as a documentary portrait photographer. She received first place in the 2006 Environmental Photography Invitational, and was also featured in the American Photography 22 Book Juried by Kathy Ryan. Her inspirations include Andrew Wyeth, Nan Goldin, Louis Faurer, Eggleston and the voice of Sam Beam. Annie’s work has appeared in publications including National Geographic Traveler, The New York Times, PDN, Time Magazine, People Magazine, Men’s Journal and ELLE.

What made you decide to start shooting at the wildlife rehabilitation sanctuary?
‘I found an injured pigeon on the sidewalk in Seattle six years ago and called 911, and they directed me to Sarvey. Sarvey sent an ambulance that drove 70 miles at 11pm to pick up the pigeon. I saw in that rescuer something in me- a desire to save the innocent, so I started working there. Also, my mom had just passed away and I was looking to do something that mattered.’

How did you come up with the title for this series, Finding Trust?
‘Finding Trust came from the feeling I get from the animals. I can see in their eyes that when we are helping them, they know it. Even though they are wild and have never had human contact before, they find that trust somewhere in their bones and they release themselves to us. Sometimes an animal will shut its eyes and let us pick it up or do a wing pin. I can see that the animal has resigned itself to the unknowns in the universe, the part we can’t explain. But something inside them says, “Ok, do what you need to do so I can get the hell out of here and back to flying!” It’s a beautiful thing.’

Annie Marie Musselman

You shot a lot of close-up photographs of the animals. How did they respond to the camera?
‘Usually the animals are afraid when I’m close, sometimes not, but I know that the end result will be that the world can see their beauty. I want people to see what I see in them, so that’s what I strive for every time I’m at Sarvey. I want to show their freedom, playfulness, gentle natures, and all of the qualities I feel that humans embody, something many of us have lost. I want so badly for humans to be kinder to animals in all aspects of our lives, and I feel that the more their beauty is exposed, the more people will see something like them inside their selves. Many times I will sit with an animal and shoot for a while. Usually after about 10 to 20 minutes they start to relax and realize I’m not a threat. No petting or touching is involved unless it’s an unreleasable animal.’

Annie Marie Musselman

What was the most remarkable thing that happened during your documentation of the wildlife sanctuary?
‘That’s a hard one, because there are so many incredible things. Some of them are secrets to the center that I’m not allowed to tell, but one that I can tell is about a crow who came to the center with two broken feet. Sue, the director of Sarvey does everything she can to save an animal’s life, and she wanted this crow to live. We mended its feet so it could walk again, but it still couldn’t fly. During this period the crow became a friend to many people at the center and was allowed to hop around inside during the day, eating whatever she wanted. I had always heard that Corvids were the smartest birds and so I started to talk to her and she would let me scratch her neck and squalk at me until I came over and petted her. One day I was on the ground photographing and I felt this pecking at my belt that had beads all over it, she was bugging me to give her attention so I turned around and started giving her a neck rub, before I knew it she was fast asleep and had fallen into a coma state. I couldn’t wake her up, she just sat their totally satiated in pleasure from her back rub, her body limp and her head bent over, beak touching the ground. She had become my true friend. Obviously this bird is unreleasable since she cannot fly and will become an education bird. She is now joined by another crow friend with a similar problem. Their names are Hoppy and Jeckyl.’

Where are you currently finding inspiration?
‘I’m really into Saul Leiter at the moment, and I have tons of Odilon Redon on my walls. I just bought a book by Joseph Cornell, and I love his little boxes with all the birds. He was so in love with them. Sometimes I’ll bring my books to photo shoots for inspiration, such as Nan Goldin, William Eggleston’s book, Los Alamos, and always Brassai. This spring, I saw an incredible spread in W magazine by Philip Lorca DiCorcia on the Middle East which I have taped up around my office. I also really love The Fader magazine. So much great photography.’

Where has your work been seen?
‘Finding Trust was featured in American Photography 22 juried by Kathy Ryan, and will appear this month in PDN. I have shot for National Geographic Adventure, Outside, The New York Times, Elle, and others. I have a show in New York next spring at the Alice Austin House.’

Annie Marie Musselman

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