Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Fur-kids and multi-species family portraits

(c) Kerry Martin
Kerry and her inspiration, Keiko: "The relationship between a dog and his human is a precious thing and there's no denying that some people treat their dogs as their children." [Nice job BTW - all white and all black pets are pretty hard to photograph well].

Mother’s day is fast approaching. A lot of our readers aren’t mothers in the strictly biologically reproductive sense, but one expression that seems to have crept into the vernacular is “fur-kid”. (Although in truth, kid was once reserved for baby goats, it crept into the vernacular as a means of referring to human offspring. One mightn’t mind a herd of kids, but one might not be ready for a herd of kids). Different folks use different terms (I came across the term “grey-baby” for a pet greyhound), but essentially this gives us some insight into the type of relationship some of us have with pets.

Sandy and Sammy.
Another trend SAT has noticed is the appearance of fur-kids in family portraits (one of our favourite sites is www.awkwardfamilypetphotos.com). Ask someone if they have a pet and they'll usually draw their smartphone and show you a stream of cute animal portraits. Even the Royal Family is getting in on the action. 

For some of us this has never been new, but there’s been a huge growth in the number of pet photographers offering their professional skills to capture a multi-species family portrait.

SAT spoke to Kerry Martin of Akemi Photography about her job and the pros and cons of treating pets as family.

What do you do for a living?

I'm a photographer and I work with pets and their people.  I have the most awesome job of creating incredible experiences and capturing the amazing bond that pet lovers have with their pet.

How did you get into dog photography (phoDOGraphy?)?

It really started when we welcomed our own gorgeous fur child into the family. Keiko is the most adorable dog and as a puppy he looked like a baby polar bear.  That much cuteness just had to be captured and cherished and this is something that continues today!  His arrival opened up this new world for me. 
Modern family: Sam, Kerry and Keiko. Note Keiko's resemblance to a polar bear. Fortunately he's somewhat less predatory - a fact which no doubt enhances the human-animal bond.
I chased him about, capturing his every cheekiness, cuteness and new discovery in his puppy world.  I took nearly a gazillion photos of Keiko and was sharing them online.  I then had some of the families I photographed ask to include their pets in their photography sessions.  Of course, I thought this was a fabulous idea and it turned out that these were the most relaxed and fun sessions.  It then grew from there.  Today I photograph pets individually and with their families.  It’s the most amazing fun and it’s so beautiful to capture and share the love people have for their pets.

It seems there has been a huge increase in pet photography in the last decade. Why do you think this is?

Because our pets are adorable, fun and an important part of our lives.  They are beautiful.  In an individual portrait they can be stunning and a stylish piece of photo wall art.  Included in a family session, they capture another love that exists in family.  Our pets when included with the family also have an uncanny nature to make people relax and this makes for amazing photos.  

Be ready for anything: Sonny and Commander Spock.
What are the challenges in taking photos of animals and how can you overcome these?

There are quite a few challenges (and lots if you're not naturally an animal person!).  Like humans, every animal will have their own personality - what they respond to, what they enjoy and don't enjoy.  Understanding how to relate to animals while letting them be animals is essential to working with them.  Being calm and patient is equally important.  I don't have expectations of an animal doing what it is I want them to but to let them be themselves and figure out how to work with that to deliver what their people want.

Sunny and foster dog Ronnie.
Can you describe your typical client?

The typical thing about my clients is that they are all pet lovers and absolutely consider their pets part of the family.  They arrange playdates for them, they include them in whatever activities they can, the pets sleep on the bed and are just truly loved.

Have you had any unusual requests?

More often now, I'm being asked to photograph bigger groups of pets.  People want to include all the pets in the family that are important, so that might be siblings and their pets.  Pets in an extended family often spend much time together so capturing them all together is meaningful to their people.  I'm frequently photographing groups of 5, 6 and 7 pets.  It's crazy fun with those sorts of numbers of animals!

Karen, Dan and Tux.
I've also photographed with Wildlife Victoria - bats, possums, wombats and a very cheeky joey.  It was an incredible opportunity to photograph Australian wildlife.  

It has been said that for some people, animals are equivalent to children. Is that your experience and why do you think we do this?

Absolutely.  It's true for me, as well as for many of those I photograph.  I don't firsthand know the bond that a mother has for her children, but I certainly believe the love I have for my fur-kids is as meaningful.  I know many people with both human and fur children and they express the same sentiment - that they consider their pets to be part of the family.  

I work from home and one of the things I love most is that they are around me all day (I love to have a break for a 'puppy cuddle'), we plan outings and holidays around including them.  We will talk about their day and the little things that they got up to.  There's a reason why we so commonly refer to them as our best friends - they embody the best qualities we all seek in our lives - loyalty, companionship, they teach us, they grow with us, they make us feel joy and happiness, and all without conditions.  

Fiona and her fur-kids Monty and Mandy: "My dogs rule my house. They sleep in the bed with me, they each have their own routines, we organise play dates with my mum's dogs, and they're spoilt every day and get whatever they want. I have two ballgowns for Mandy and a tuxedo for Monty I'm saving for a special occasion."
Do you think there is a down-side to this bonding?

It is absolutely heartbreaking when they leave us.  And the problem with pets, is that that's always too soon.  This can be made more difficult by the fact that others don't necessarily understand the deep connection pet lovers have with their pet.  Non-pet people will say 'it's only a dog' believing that it will help us to find "perspective" and adjust quicker.  In fact that minimises what's being felt and can make us feel isolated.  Our pets are such a constant part of our lives and we often associate them with other great memories throughout our lives, it leaves such a gap when they depart.  

Kim and Daisy, who she rescued off the streets of Budapest 17 years ago. "I have a one-on-one relationship with Daisy and we know each other's moves and I can predict her needs. I adore every hair on her body."
Do you have any non-humans in your life? Can you tell us a bit about them?

I've already mentioned our top dog, Keiko.  He's a 3 year old Japanese Spitz.  He's also the world's cutest dog ;)  We also have our cat Kimba (who is in fact, top 'dog' in our house putting Keiko in his place when the need arises).  He's 7 years old and a being a Ragdoll cross Maine Coon (from what we can tell), a big boy.  Snuggles on the couch are one of our favourite things in this house.  

Do you ever get sick of taking pics of animals?

To my husband's sometimes displeasure - no!  I love being around animals and when they are doing something adorable I can't help but feel the need to capture it.  I take some sort of camera (if not my SLR) with me everywhere I go.  Keiko I photograph pretty much every day still.  I will see or meet a dog while out walking and want to photograph them because they are so adorable/playful/unique/etc.  I have ideas about a way that I'd like to photograph a particular breed or I'll purchase a new prop or lens which opens another creative photography avenue. Or I'll discover a new amazing location, like taking dogs to the snow, which inspires more photography.  Photographing animals and pets is the perfect mix of my passions - I can't get enough of it. And I say to hubby’s displeasure because he's often the one I rope in to 'assist' me!

Thanks Kerry. I must confess I have one or two [potentially 65,000] photos of my multi-species family around the place here and there. Readers, do you include your pet in family portraits? SAT would love to see them. Are your portraits strictly mono-species? Tell us why. Do you consider yourself a "pet parent" of "fur kids" (and will you celebrate mother's day with your pet) or disagree with use of this terminology?