We Interview the ‘Godfather of Cat Photography’ Walter Chandoha
Andy Warhol may have used his photography as the basis for his book on cats.
It all started with Loco the cat (pictured above). On a snowy night in 1948, in a New York City alleyway, Walter Chandoha spotted the kitten, picked him up, put him in his pocket and took him home. That cat put the legendary photographer’s lifetime career in motion. With over 30 books, 300 magazine covers and thousands of advertisements—and not just for cat food—Walter Chandoha is known as one of the most preeminent cat photographers.
Now, at almost 95 years old (his birthday is later this month), the photographer—who still works out of a studio in a barn on a New Jersey farm—has just released his latest book, aptly entitled Walter Chandoha: The Cat Photographer (Aperture, October 2015), capturing fifty of his greatest feline images of all time. With the astounding recent sale at Sotheby’s of a very large painting of cats, it couldn’t have come at a better time.
The collection also provides a background into his life and work, as well as tips for all those budding cat photographers out there trying to capture Mr. McGiggles in the perfect light. Mr. Chandoha spoke with artnet News via phone about his nearly 70 years of working with our forever amusing furry friends.
Are cats better than dogs when it comes to photographic subject matter?
They’re more expressive than dogs, first of all. They get into more situations than dogs would ever dream of getting into and they vocalize so much differently—they purr and they snarl and they meow in different cadences. I prefer cats; they have so much more variety in their postures.
Do you have ever say to yourself, “I never would’ve expected to have career based on cats?”
I marvel at that constantly, especially with this most recent book. I look at it and I say to myself and my kids, ‘How did I ever get this picture?’ I always mention the fact that my late wife was instrumental in most of the pictures I’ve made; she was my handler and she understood cats. It was all about patience and timing and always unpredictable. I mean, these weren’t models, they were cats!
Do you have a favorite image of all time that you’ve shot?
Yes, it’s one of five kittens. That picture is fairly recent—1980. I’ve photographed thousands of cats, and it surprises me still that every so often I come up with a picture of cats that nobody has ever done.
What are some of the artists who’ve inspired your career—cat artists or otherwise?
While I’m not a fan of his style, I’ve been told that Andy Warhol used some of my cat photography as the basis for his book on cats.
As artists of cats go, I like Steinlen (Théophile Alexandre) who, like myself, did a lot of commercial art, and then an Asian artist named Foujita. There’s another artist who inspired me but I don’t think he did any cats per se: the Dutch artist Vermeer. The way he presented his subjects with back light and shadows is something I use in all my pictures. You’ll see there’s always a nice rim light around my photos; it enhances the roundness of the figures, and just makes for a more beautiful picture. Also, there was one photographer named Ylla, who photographed a wide spectrum of animals; subconsciously she may have inspired me too to get into photographing cats.
As you’ve been around cats for nearly 70 years, do you think that cats are more popular than ever before or was there another period you remember with such a high level of popularity?
I’ve never seen anything like this. I attribute it first and foremost to the owners’ great love of cats and their desire to photograph them and share their beauty. The pride of ownership and the substitution (in some cases) of a child, not to mention the ease, today, of taking a picture and the power of sharing—all these things combined have made cats more popular than ever before. Dogs are said to be man’s best friend, but cats are really attractive animals and appealing companions. At least that’s what I think, and I’ve been around them long enough to know!
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