Who is the Original Cat Photographer?

Curators’ Corner

Who is the Original Cat Photographer?

Everyone loves a good cat photo, and to whom do we owe thanks for the Internet cat craze and endless memes of naughty kittens pushing things off tables? That would be Walter Chandoha, the Internet dubbed “Godfather of cat photography.”

Chandoha has been in the business of photographing animals for more than 40 years, his work featured on more than 300 magazine covers. His book, How to Shoot and Sell Animal Photos, is considered a career blueprint for photographers aspiring to follow in his footsteps.

Image © Walter Chandoha

Chandoha traces the birth of his niche photography to a winter long ago, when walking around Astoria, Queens, he came across a small gray kitten in the snow. As explained on Wired, Chandoha “bundled it up and brought it home, named it Loco, and let him do his thing. Being a kitten, this meant chasing his tail, attacking his toys, frightening himself in mirrors, and generally being adorable.”

Of course, Chandoha started snapping photos of his precious Loco, and before long, his work could be found everywhere from cat food labels, to National Geographic and Life magazine spreads, to jigsaw puzzles and TV commercials. His photography is most recognizable by his signature “brightly colored backdrops and high-key ‘glamour’ backlighting of his tiny, fuzzy subjects,” as described by Aperture.

Image © Walter Chandoha

Not only a photographer, Chandoha has also released a small library’s worth of books, his most recent aptly named, The Cat Photographer. In The Cat Photographer, Chandoha describes the art of cat photography, sharing his tips for using as much lighting as possible (he recommends six lights) in order to capture every fluffy hair, and discussing how a smudge of bacon grease on a kitten’s ear will lure a lick from its mother.

Chandoha credits much of his success to his late wife, Maria, and to patience. “That is where I differ from the pictures you see on Facebook,” he told Financial Times. “The pictures there on the whole are superb but they are a one-shot thing. Could the photographer repeat that time after time? Could he do a variation on that? The answer is no, because most of them are just lucky shots.”

Image © Walter Chandoha

At age 96, Chandoha still shoots with the enthusiasm of a young freelancer and can be found photographing the flora, fauna and, of course, the cats found on his 46-acre farm in northern New Jersey. To see Chandoha’s complete body of work, visit www.chandohaphotography.com.