- Courtesy of the artist, Annie Marie Musselman
- A GREAT BLUE HERON But nothing casts a shadow on the sky.
The spotted fawn on the cover of Finding Trust casts a wary eye at the camera. The fawn is not in a meadow. The closest thing to a green meadow is the mussed mint-green bedsheet the fawn sits on, convalescing. Two pages into the book there's another snapshot, this time of a great blue heron. The heron casts a long shadow on a wall the exact blue of blue skies, but nothing leaves a shadow on the actual sky, so I immediately feel the cognitive dissonance between this creature that has a wingspan the size of me, and whatever homo sapiens interior I'm looking at. Yet the bird is not trapped. It is calm and the photographer is close.
The heron and fawn are injured and have been brought to the place where all the book's photographs were taken, at Sarvey Wildlife Center, a sanctuary and hospital for wild animals outside Arlington, Washington. Sarvey seems like an amazing place. In 2013, Sarvey counted 2,951 wildlife patients. It's the only center of its kind in the state, according to its web site.
Photographer Annie Marie Musselman volunteered for seven years of Thursdays at Sarvey, starting in 2003. She discovered it one night after a Sonics game, when she noticed a badly bloated pigeon on the ground, called 911, and got a call back immediately. The man on the other end of the line said, "Whaddya got?" He arrived to rescue the pigeon in 45 minutes. (Arlington is 47 miles away.) Moved, Musselman asked whether Sarvey needed volunteers. "Are you kidding?" he said.
Musselman had recently nursed her sick mother, then seen her mother die. In her grief, working with injured animals turned out to be the only thing that felt worth doing.
"It gave me a life," she said in an interview at a Seattle coffee shop back in September, when the book was released in Europe. (The publisher is Kehrer Verlag, a German house specializing in art photography.) Finding Trust was released this month in the U.S., and Musselman, a Tacoma native now based in Seattle who also shoots for publications like Newsweek and The Stranger (she got her start shooting De La Soul for The Rocket), will give a talk Saturday at 5 at Elliott Bay.
Musselman worked at Sarvey for several years before she started taking photographs, bringing her own lights and collaborating with the workers there. While she was there, her father also fell ill with an undiagnosed disease. He'd been a painter all his life. The illness left him blind.
After that, Musselman met a raven that would never fly again, meaning she was allowed to imprint. They called her Angel, and there's an unmistakable mutual love between Angel and Musselman in the photographs. Musselman knows it sounds weird, but she came to see in Angel her mother's departed spirit. Angel and Musselman had two years together, until Angel's painful bumblefoot advanced too far. On the morning Angel died, Musselman saw an eagle appear outside the window just beforehand, then fly away the moment after.
"It is said that if someone or something endures pain, the eagle signals a new beginning, providing the stamina and resilience to endure," Musselman wrote in the book. "That day, I believe the eagle came for both Angel and me."
Like Sarvey, Finding Trust is extraordinary. It's more than 100 pages, telling many different stories, of love and trust, yes, but also loneliness, longing, surgery, and death. The photos are unfussy. This was not an experiment in moving animals around so they could pose for pictures. There's another kind of majesty from the usual wild-animal photography, where the animals' full powers bloom in the context of their world. Here they're suspended between worlds. The humans look to be, too. It seems possible that in a crazy way, they've actually met in the middle.