Photo by Barry Schwartz
My dog is so useful for taking pictures of cats. I usually walk him without a leash, and when we’re out where there might be something interesting worth taking a picture, I bring a camera. That would be almost anywhere.
My dog, Whiskey, is rather interested in cats, and they in him. Living in Southern California, cats are out and about most seasons of the year. It’s a good life. Whiskey (full name, Powers Irish Whiskey) is a Wheaten Terrier, an Irish farm dog, bred to be a herder and ratter. While cats are not rats, as far as Whiskey is concerned, it’s a difference without a distinction.
One of our favorite places to walk is Venice in a small sub-neighborhood of canals in a tight grid of modest lots with small front yards, perfect for viewing cats on their porches or in the plantings. Whiskey doesn’t often get to look at cats so close, and while he’s appreciative of the access, the cats seem ambivalent; they don’t run away (usually) but rather freeze in place and match him in interest.
This makes them ideal portrait subjects. Whiskey is well-behaved, and if I ask him to stay where he is, he will do it. The cats do the same (I don’t even have to ask). Their hyper-attentiveness makes them perfect posers: projecting stillness with lots of energy, like a good fashion model. I’ve gotten any number of really great photographs of cats this way, and I can’t imagine how I would have done it otherwise: cats just don’t find me as interesting as Whiskey. They have their agenda, I have mine.
This was an accidental discovery. I had no inkling Whiskey would be a great portrait facilitator, it’s not really what he was bred to do. He’s never shown any real interest in my camera and I believe cats share his detachment.
It took me three cats before I figured out what was going on, and now it’s a well-traveled routine. We all – me, the cats, and Whiskey – find the whole thing very exciting, albeit for completely different reasons – which is exciting in and of itself. During photography, we are all engaged rather intimately in this temporary, highly energized relationship, each with our own agenda, and I get some good art out of it, which was my intention the whole time, pre-dating cat-photography.
If I could only figure out how to use my dog in a similar way in my professional life, I’d do nothing but brilliant, exciting work all the time. But that would not be fair to Whiskey, who, like all dogs, sleeps 90% of the time (that’s part of his own job description). It would be financially dangerous to depend on Whiskey’s presence as some kind of talisman or lucky charm to produce good work: what would I do while he’s asleep? Professionals have to make good work even in the absence of dogs and cats; that’s the gig.
Whiskey’s assistance with the cats, though, is a solid reminder that you never know what’s going to help get the work out, you just have to stay alert to the possibilities, like a cat watching a dog.