Pets & Animals

Wild! Mom shows daughter growing up with animals in 12-year photo project

Fifteen-year-old Amelia Forman was destined to be an animal person.

She has stared into a tiger’s eyes, cuddled a zebra and been lifted into the sky by an elephant’s trunk. For as long as she can remember, Amelia has communed with animals and viewed them as friends — all thanks to her mother’s wild photography career.

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An animal and wildlife photographer for decades, mom Robin Schwartz began bringing Amelia along with her to photo shoots at age 3. Many of Schwartz’s clients are diehard animal lovers who care for exotic creatures great and small.

It didn’t take long for Schwartz to notice how comfortable young Amelia was with all sorts of animals. Her ease around them — and theirs with her — made Schwartz intuitively feel secure about allowing Amelia to participate in photo shoots. And now, 12 years later, Schwartz is garnering a cult following for her edgy yet tender portraits of Amelia growing up in the company of wildlife.

“This project, it’s our adventure,” Schwartz told TODAY.com. “It has brought us together and given us these experiences that no one else can have, and that’s all that I can ask for.”

Animals have been a constant theme in Schwartz’s work and life. She first began snapping pictures of her pet cats at age 10, and she photographed New York’s stray dogs while studying at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, N.Y. After receiving her master of fine arts in photography, she focused on photographing primates and built a rapport not only with the animals, but with their owners as well.

When Amelia got involved, the Hoboken, N.J., resident tapped into her network of animal lovers in order to expand her portfolio to include an array of wild and domesticated animals. She doesn't like to reveal where she finds her subjects.

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“I have these animal connections, you know? And they really trust me and I value that,” Schwartz said. “I’m fairly eccentric and it’s nice that they put up with me!”

Many people wonder whether Amelia has ever been in danger while on a shoot, but Schwartz said she’s never doubted her daughter’s safety in the hands of the animals.

“Amelia goes to school in New York City. She's taking the subway. She plays softball!” Schwartz said. “These are the things I worry about.”

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She said that when Amelia steps on location and interacts with the animals, her entire demeanor downshifts and a sense of calmness prevails. As Amelia has gotten older, her participation in the project has grown. Her personality is reflected in the types of animals she chooses to pose with and the color palettes she envisions.

Schwartz said she loves collaborating with her daughter on a project that shows the best relationships in life transcend languages, locations and even species.

  • Slideshow Photos

    'Amelia and the Animals': From age 3 on, girl pals around with wildlife

    Photographer Robin Schwartz and her daughter Amelia Forman share their love of animals in this wild series of portraits examining the intricacies of interspecies companionship.

  • 'Amelia and the Animals': From age 3 on, girl pals around with wildlife

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    Wheeee!

    Robin Schwartz has been chronicling her daughter Amelia Forman in a photography project for the past 12 years — but this isn't your average kid-growing-up portrait series.

    Schwartz, a renowned wildlife photographer, is the mastermind behind this mother-daughter adventure, which began was Amelia was 3 years old.

    Robin Schwartz / Robin Schwartz
  • 'Amelia and the Animals': From age 3 on, girl pals around with wildlife

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    Ricky and Amelia

    It was purely happenstance that Amelia was present at this 2002 photo shoot with her mother. Robin Schwartz had photographed her daughter many times before in the comfort of their own home, and had spent years photographing primates and other animals professionally, but when she saw the connection that Amelia shared with this chimpanzee named Ricky she knew that it was a spark not to be ignored.

    "It was love at first sight!" Schwartz said.

    Robin Schwartz / Robin Schwartz
  • 'Amelia and the Animals': From age 3 on, girl pals around with wildlife

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    Ethereal and dramatic

    Robin Schwartz’s series of photographs show a young girl growing up with her own personal menagerie. Ethereal, dramatic and even a bit haunting, the portraits provide a glimpse into a storybook life.

    Robin Schwartz / Robin Schwartz
  • 'Amelia and the Animals': From age 3 on, girl pals around with wildlife

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    Rooftop angels

    “I am an animal person. I have always photographed animals,” Robin Schwartz said, her hushed voice buzzing the words a mile a minute. "This is not a new thing.”

    Later in her life, Schwartz saw how magical it could be to include her daughter in her photo shoots.

    Robin Schwartz / Robin Schwartz
  • 'Amelia and the Animals': From age 3 on, girl pals around with wildlife

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    Bottle feeding

    Schwartz said it's oddly beautiful to see how Amelia bonds with her animal friends. She added that Amelia doesn't see her role in the photo shoots as anything special because it's something she's always done.

    Robin Schwartz / Robin Schwartz
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    Woodland wonders

    Even at a very young age it was clear that Amelia had an ease with animals. Schwartz she never ceases to be amazed by her daughter's ability.

    Robin Schwartz / Robin Schwartz
  • 'Amelia and the Animals': From age 3 on, girl pals around with wildlife

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    Wild and free

    Amelia’s naturally curly hair is an untamed mane that has never been cut. Her sedate attitude is mesmerizing, and her piercing blue eyes seem to stare through the viewer in many of Schwartz's photos.

    Robin Schwartz / Robin Schwartz
  • 'Amelia and the Animals': From age 3 on, girl pals around with wildlife

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    Paris hair

    Robin Schwartz and her daughter are so used to being surrounded by animals that when they travel, they both long for their pets back home.

    Once, while at a photo festival in France, Schwartz missed her whippets so badly that she contacted her breeder who put her in touch with fellow dog owners in Paris.

    Robin Schwartz / Robin Schwartz
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    'Emotional support'

    "I depend on my animals for emotional support," Schwartz said. "Some people drink beer and I pet my dogs."

    Robin Schwartz / Robin Schwartz
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    Deer line

    Most of the animals Schwartz photographs are not her own. She networks with other animal lovers and barters for access to find the perfect pets for her series.

    Robin Schwartz / Robin Schwartz
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    Breakfast talk

    Schwartz doesn't like to reveal where she finds her subjects. "I have these animal connections, you know? And they really trust me and I value that," she said. "I’m fairly eccentric and it’s nice that they put up with me!"

    Robin Schwartz / Robin Schwartz
  • 'Amelia and the Animals': From age 3 on, girl pals around with wildlife

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    Another elephant ride later in life

    Many people wonder whether Amelia has ever been in danger while on a shoot, but Schwartz said she never has doubted her daughter's safety in the hands of the animals. They are all very well trained and cared for lovingly, and in fact, Robin trusts the animals completely. "It is humans I am more wary of, that I worry about in general," she said.

    Robin Schwartz / Robin Schwartz
  • 'Amelia and the Animals': From age 3 on, girl pals around with wildlife

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    A zebra named Raz

    Schwartz said parenting is a challenge, especially when your only daughter is entering high school.

    "Amelia goes to school in New York City. She's taking the subway. She plays softball!" the mom said. "These are the things I worry about."

    Robin Schwartz / Robin Schwartz
  • 'Amelia and the Animals': From age 3 on, girl pals around with wildlife

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    Into the mist

    As Amelia has gotten older, her participation in the project has grown. Her personality is reflected in the types of animals she chooses to pose with and the color palettes she envisions.

    Robin Schwartz / Robin Schwartz
  • 'Amelia and the Animals': From age 3 on, girl pals around with wildlife

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    Owl pals

    Schwartz said she loves collaborating with her daughter on such a personal adventure. This project has given the mother and daughter a way to bond and show others that the best relationships in life transcend languages, locations and even species.

    Check out more of Robin Schwartz's work on her website or learn about her successful Kickstarter campaign to help fund her latest photo book, "Amelia and the Animals."

    Robin Schwartz / Robin Schwartz

The Aperture Foundation, a New York based non-profit publishing group, has raised funds to release select works from Schwartz’s 12-year-long project this fall in a photo book titled "Amelia and the Animals." 

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