Images from the early 20th century reveal our age old fascination with pets and how we love to photograph them.
A search for pet photos on the Internet brings up numerous images of dressed-up pets taken by photographers, amateurs and pet lovers. This obsession with photographing pets in human situations is not new. An early example can be seen in the works of American photographer Harry Whittier Frees (b. 1879).
Frees created novelty postcards and children’s books, with photos of dressed-up animals in staged scenarios. He placed animals (mostly cats and puppies) in tableaux and miniature sets, doing things people do. The themes of his photographs capture pets engaged in human activities like celebrating birthdays, making phone calls, washing utensils and watering plants.
Frees work involved planning and production. He photographed his own pets and those borrowed from friends and pet shops. His assistant and housekeeper, Ms. Annie Edleman, stitched the costumes for the little models. The scenarios and sets Frees created for the photographs took months of planning. Shot on large format film cameras, each image required immense patience both in the photographer and his pet subjects. In an article published in Life Magazine in 1937, Frees attributed his success to the ‘kindly treatment of his models and a sixth sense about animals’.
In a career that spanned five decades, Frees produced a number of books including Animal Land on the Air and Animal Mother Goose with Characters Photographed from Life. His work is archived in the Library of Congress.
All images via Library of Congress