Sunday, December 18, 2011

Published 10:37 AM by with 5 comments

In the Company of Cats

No matter what I'm doing in my life, I always try to integrate something creative into the mix. I am currently working at an animal hospital and recently someone suggested that I take some pictures of the resident cats to spice up the walls and replace what had been there for years. The idea was appealing but taking photographs of animals in a conventional way was not entirely exciting. There was no deadline for the project so I just let the idea percolate in my brain for a while. There are plenty of pet photographers out there and, while they satisfy a need for many people, I am happy to look elsewhere for my inspiration. 

I read an article in a British magazine called Black and White about a photographer who had a fascination with the circus. It wasn't the performance itself that drew him in, rather, it was the mystery of what went on behind the curtain. I have to admit that I have that same sense of wonder about circus life. The resulting images were very penetrating. In single stills, the photographer was able to paint a life of hardship and, in some cases, complete isolation. The only break in that kind of solitary existence was when the ringmaster announced the the next amazing feat to a wide-eyed audience. Even operating in a team environment was an introspective experience for all those hard working individuals.

Something really connected with me in those photographs. There was a strong emotional element and the choice of black and white made each photograph timeless. Monochrome tends to do that. Not only does it remove most references to reality as we know it, it also intensifies and sometimes creates anew a mood and atmosphere usually only sensed but rarely seen.

So I began to think in black and white for my animal hospital project. I wanted to approach each photograph as I would a human portrait. My priority was to draw out the personality of the subject. 

So how does one do that with a cat? Luckily the hospital cats roam loose and I get to spend a lot of time with them. It is said that cats' personalities are more numerous and varied than most other species. I actually made that up but, by saying that, I am drawing from my own experience. My life thus far has been shared with many a feline. I've had cats for as long as I can remember and, although I once visited with an allergist who told me my biggest concern should be cat dander, I have long enjoyed their company.

Each cat at the hospital has a unique trait. Every day, each one announces its presence. Take Toby, for instance, our overweight Main Coon-like cat who appears to be as dumb as a bag of hammers but is really qute ingenious. He wears an invisible fence collar that prevents him from breaking into the food on display at the front of the hospital. When he is in close proximity of said kibbles, the collar gives him a gentle buzz signaling the illegal activity. Toby is able to sense when the battery is depleted and helps himself. He is also aware of the device's range and has been found tearing into a bag that is just inches outside the buzz zone. His mission in life, it seems, is to taunt the only cat in the hospital who is not a resident, Saucy.

Toby - genius or clown? The jury is out.
Saucy came to us more than six months ago because the septogenarian owner found her too hard to handle. She closely resembles an angry Garfield in appearance, which seems to be her perpetual demeanor. She is a cool cat in my books but needs her own space. She is not a lap cat and screams like a banshee when lifted. First impressions are everything when trying to adopt an animal and unfortunately Saucy fails right there. As a result she sits in her cage or sometimes sleeps beneath the counter of the front desk. 

Saucy - She can look really innocent when she wants to...
Among the many interesting things about Saucy is her unwillingness or inability to fraternize with any of her feline brethren. Hissing and spitting and low moans get directed at any other passing cat like a laser gun. Having said that, she does come to accept other cats after some time but she and the aforementioned Toby have never seen eye to eye. Toby will sit and stare at Saucy when she is locked up in her cage and, despite her very audible protests, Toby doesn't flinch. He simply sits there and stares at her. When these two collide, it sounds like the dungeon doors have been pried open and all hell has broken loose.

I could go on and on about the other actors in this hospital drama but I think the point is made that each has their own unique existence and it was with that in mind that I approached photographing them.

Cats are solitary creatures although they occasionally like to share a bed or space with each other. I wanted to show that sense of indepence in each shot. In some cases, I was able to capture it directly and at other times it took days.

Karl with a K - he spends most of his waking life sleeping

Rico C Suave - This cool cat thinks he is the boss and actually
has his own 
Facebook page
Still influenced by the circus photos I had seen in that magazine, I captured each cat in black and white and then added some grunge in post production to enhance that feeling of timelessness and mood. It was important for me not to show any of the hospital surroundings in each frame, the emphasis had to be completely on the subject. 

On projects such as this where I am given complete creative reign, I'm working inside a bubble. Only when I had a small body of pictures did I share them. I was pleased that the reaction was quite positive. 

Code named "Fiona", this kitten stayed at the hospital only for a few 
days while preparing to be adopted.
Of course, it is an animal hospital, not a cat clinic so it became obvious that we also needed some dog photographs as well. We have no resident dogs but the doctor's dog Earl, an endearing King Charles Cavalier, gladly obliged, as did DD, a dog belonging to one of the techs. 

One of the doctors' dogs, Earl.
DD is one of the sweetest dogs ever known to man
There are more animals yet to be photographed and, when the existing ones are printed and framed and adorning the halls and exam rooms, the project may be an ongoing one.

I should mention that all of the photographs in this post were shot with a Canon 5D Mark II using a 50mm f1.4 Canon lens. The post production was an entirely new experience for me using a completely innovative app for the iPad called Snapseed from Nik Software. If you were to boil Photoshop down to its bare essence and get rid of everything except the absolute essentials to make any photograph pop, you would get Snapseed. I urge anyone interested in taking their photographs to the next level to give it a try.

Stay tuned...


luvglass said...

You do have the magic touch Sonny. Excellent!

~~Sue and Doug~~ said...

ditto what 'luvglass said'..great post as always Steven..I love the way you write and your photos of the 'residents' seem to capture their personalities..gotta love Rico though!!!...the famous one!!!

dreamjosie said...

You captured them well. You must have been a cat in a previous life.

Kritter Sitters said...

This is a pleasure to see what a wonderful job you did, and how spot on you are about each and everyone one of them. Toby is my favorite, I love him dearly.

Unknown said...

Beautiful! I am a cat lover, and the pictures are awesome. Just shared this on Twitter.