“The Disturbing Beauty Of Sphynx Cats”, Winner of PDN FACES 2015.
In this body of work I explore the beauty of the Sphynx within their oddity.
Sphynx (hairless cats) fascinate me in many ways. I’m drawn to their alien looks.
Without fluffy and fancy coats, this breed shows what a true cat is with every fold and movement. Everything is raw, exposed, vulnerable. There’s something disturbing yet eerie that makes me astonished ever time I look at one of them.
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What inspired you to do this Sphynx series?
I've always been fascinated with weird things. I remember being a kid and going to oddities museums and just starring at them in awe. I would observe the two-headed sheep with a mixture of fascination, curiosity and bewilderment. It gave me such an unusual feeling that made me stare at the animal for a lot longer than the other observers, trying to figure out how that animal came to be so different than it was intended. The first time I ever saw a hairless Sphynx cat I felt somewhat similar. I was so enamored by them that I practically became obsessed, like a child again. A cat without that protective (typical) coat, allowed me to recognize and experience each emotion and sensation the Sphynx cat was experiencing, as it was exposed on its raw, naked flesh. The first time I ever photographed one was in 2013, in San Francisco, but it wasn't until this spring that I decided to further explore this breed and create a solid body of work around them.
What do you think attracts Sphynx owners to this cat?
A lot of people who suffer from pet allergies and still want a little companion may look for hypoallergenic pets. Sphynxes luckily do not have fur, so this is definitely an advantage for this breed. Open-minded people, who think outside of the traditional cat box, are intrigued with this unique cat’s exterior. They may not have fur, but when you pet one, it’s like you’re caressing velvet. These cats may outwardly look edgy, aggressive, or a bit odd; however, their personalities are actually in fact bright, joyful, very affectionate and quite social. This breed is a great example of the notable cliché, "looks can be deceiving.”
Where did you find the cats?
These cats belong to different women who participated in this particular Sphynx project. I met them via Facebook when I posted a casting call for all Sphynx owners that wanted to have professional photographs taken of their cats. I also posted a photo of a Sphynx I had previously photographed two years prior, so that they could see the direction I was headed. The response was tremendous and the owners were thrilled to have a professional portfolio taken of their extraordinary cats.
Where did you photograph them?
For this project, I only worked with natural lighting and a few backdrops for these series. In order to get the results I wanted, I needed to have access to a space that had an abundance of natural light. Two of the cats where photographed in their own homes because the spaces worked out, but one of them was photographed at my friend's loft in downtown Los Angeles because the owner's apartment wasn't ideal, in terms of lighting.
Personally, when I photograph animals, it's very important for me to ensure that my subjects have a good time; I let them be, run around, sniff all my gear because they are cats, so they are going to inherently be very curious. Once they no longer feel the urge to investigate me anymore, it's time to place them in my small, portable set. I use toys, treats and sounds to keep them moving and engaged while I work to get the shot I’m going for. These cats have an absolute blast while shooting too! With unlimited treats, toys and attention...what cat wouldn’t want that??
How do you get the cats to pose in such an artistic position? Is it something that comes natural to you when photographing them or does it take quite a lot of patience to the right photograph?
It takes a lot of patience and a lot of shots. I like to get them to play, jump and sit still, but then they’d also just start randomly grooming themselves and then I’d get this great, unexpected shot of a pose and body shape. I always have some ideas in the back of my mind when I go into a shoot, but I ended up leaving with these amazing improvised photos I couldn’t have predicted and they turned out great!
What was your approach to photograph them? Is it different from other pets you photograph?
My approach when I photograph Sphynxes is almost identical to when I photograph other animals. I always let them to play around with all the stuff they find and be unconfined. I play with them too and let them get to know and trust me with lots of treats and toys, of course. The only thing I did differently with the Sphynxes was prolonged patience in order to get the shots I had in my mind. Without the fluffy coats, I could show the cat’s true anatomy. This artwork was an exploration of their bodies; the way their skin twists and their bat-like armpits, these were the things I wanted to capture, these were things that one could have never seen with a furry cat. For example, the photo of the open paw took me three different cats until I got it the way I envisioned it. It wasn't easy and I had to try many different things/ways to accomplish it.
How do Sphynx cats compare (as pets) to other cats?
From my experience, they are the most loving and affectionate breed of cats I have had the pleasure of working with, yet. Of course, there's the factor that they seek for constant heat due to their naked bodies, but they’re super silly, social and quite playful, which makes a great pet. I know that in my work, they may appear edgy, aggressive and bizarre, but actually their personalities are bright, joyful and very affectionate. They are the perfect example that looks truly can be deceiving.
The series has attracted a lot of attention online, has it given you inspiration for a future series exploring a similar theme?
I have some ideas in my head, but they are just a bunch of random thoughts that are yet to be explored. Right now, I'm trying to remain focused on this series that is far from being finished.
Do you have a favorite image from the series? Or favorite images ever?
Yes I do. The one that is a panoramic of a Sphynx profile, it’s a sequence of three images of the Sphynx on his two paws and the one where the Sphynx has his neck twisted like an owl.
Did you draw from any photographic traditions or icons when you went about styling the series?
Not really. My first body of work when I started with photography was about documenting abandoned places around Europe. My style is very particular. When I retouch the photos, I try to re-create what I felt in that moment and share my vision. A place that's dark, left in the oblivion is now brought to light and shown its particular beauty. It was the same with Sphynxes, I guess. They are odd, they are rare, and they are not popular for being "beautiful.” So I wanted to show people that these creatures are stoic, elegant and above all, definitely beautiful.
How have people reacted to the series?
When I started to do these series, I wanted the viewers to experience the same mixture of feelings I was feeling at the time I was photographing them. I hope to spark a fascination of such a rare breed, awaken a curiosity to want to know more about these hairless cats, and to also leave the viewer in amazement.
The reaction has been quite interesting. People who had disliked them have reached out and told me that they can now appreciate their unique beauty, while there have been others who have always been fascinated with them, like myself. I think this breed falls into two distinct love/hate categories without much in the middle, which I hope to change along the way.
Although some people will still dislike these cats, I hope they will take the time to appreciate their majestic beauty. They just need to have kind eyes and an open mind.