Amelia Forman, 15, has been getting cozy with creatures that most of us see only on the Discovery Channel, for 12 years. She has bottle-fed tiger cubs, nuzzled deer in the woods while wearing a black wizard's cloak, and straddled an elephant’s trunk as if riding a rope swing. Her adventures in the animal kingdom are thanks to her photographer mother, Robin Schwartz, who’s worked for the likes of National Geographic and has prints in the MoMA and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Now, Schwartz’s 12 years' worth of photographs of her daughter—as a kind of animal-whispering fairy child—are compiled in a book, Amelia and the Animals. The Aperture Foundation is currently raising funds for the book on Kickstarter.
“Since I was only three, it seemed sort of normal just to know monkeys and a lot of different animals,” Amelia says in the Kickstarter video, “until I got older and I realized that wasn’t something that most kids had the opportunity to do.”
The series doesn’t just document Amelia and her quirky life—it tells the story of an eccentric relationship between a mother and daughter, and, more broadly, the story of the often mysterious bonds between species. Schwartz is physically unseen in the photographs, but her love for her child and for animals is deeply felt in the way she stages these highly stylized Gothic or magical realist scenes.
Schwartz started photographing animals at age 10, after getting her first Kodak Instamatic camera, and ever since has focused the bulk of her work on the four-legged and the furry. She chose to use her daughter as her model and muse as a way to spend as much time with her as possible, especially after her own mother died in 2010.
“If I were a guy photographer, I would maybe be going off and leaving her at home,” Schwartz says in the video. “By doing this project, I didn’t have to leave her. I hope that she remembers this and tells her kids about it.”
As Amelia got older, the pair started collaborating more—Robin would seek out particular animals that Amelia had requested to meet, and Amelia, interested in fashion, started styling herself on the shoots. Most recently, Amelia walked the runway in Brooklyn Fashion Week, with their blind, toothless, 15-pound Chinese Crested, Nora, wearing in a Dog Couture Anthony Bandit-Rubio gown.
“It would have been my life’s loss not doing this collaborative project,” Schwartz says in a recent interview with JW Magazine. “Other personal work, the way I did it, traveling to shoot, would have had me away from Amelia.”
To order a copy of Amelia and the Animals and to see more of Schwartz's work, head over to Kickstarter.