News & Notes
Back in 1949, the late Walter Chandola was a WWII veteran and battle photographer planning a career in marketing, when he rescued a gray kitten he found in the snow. The pictures he took of little “Loco” (which garnered him attention and awards) were the impetus for turning to freelance photography of cats (other animals too, but mostly cats) as his new career path. He became the preeminent cat photographer, with over 90,000 photos of cats, with thousands featured in countless advertisements, packages, books, and newspapers. He was the man behind the camera lens who stoked our collective interest in adorable images of cats.
I have felt a kinship with Chandola throughout the course of the pandemic. He is a New Jersey native, like myself, and I too have found myself inspired by cats because of unexpected circumstances. Like for many of us, back in March 2020 Covid-19 shrunk my world down to my two relatively new cohabitants — my boyfriend Charles and his cat Roxy. And as luck would have it, during quarantine Charles’s sister, Patti, found a dirty skinny cat playing in a nearby construction site and took her home. Patti could not keep the little calico (dubbed Tilda); so, voila we now have two cats. I had found my own “Loco,” as Chandola chose this name because it reflected the gray kitten’s goofy antics and frenetic energy. Tilda has been known to punctuate her many naps by repeatedly sprinting from one end of the apartment to the other and exploring every possible known (and unknown) crevice in the place.
Quarantine has allowed (or forced) us the time to explore new ways of connecting with the arts that are accessible at home. In an alternate pandemic-free version of my life I would have been taking dance classes and going to museums or the theatre. Suddenly, like for Chandola, the cats have become our household muses. We now have cat shelves—straight from my boyfriend’s basement woodshop– studding our walls like art pieces. I have turned vases into water bowls, rearranged furniture to give them clear paths to the windowsills, and crafted, towers, obstacle courses, and tunnels out of cardboard boxes. By photographing Roxy and Tilda’s every move I have started more directly channeling Chandola, who’s heartwarming and nuanced photography popped up on my screen as I explored the many cat centric corners of the internet.
I find the cats almost endlessly interesting to watch and photograph. One of the things that I like most about photographing them is that they will not pose or stay still and wait for you to get the perfect shot. They do exactly what they want to do all the time, completely unselfconsciously. So in large part you have to take a lot of shots with the understanding that maybe 1% of them will be worth sharing and hope to get lucky. Yet every image and the mood it conveys is genuine.
Although I have no plans to quit my job to pursue cat photography full-time; I do plan on buying a beautiful book of Chandola’s work and thinking of his legacy as I enjoy my inner quarantine-facilitated artist. His example has shown me that my array of photos (some of which my Mom loved so much that she even turned them into her own book on shutterfly for me) could actually be art.
I know that I am not the only person to discover a new artistic outlet during the pandemic. Through our second year of the Culture + Community national study work here at Slover Linett, we learned that upwards of 96% of respondents pursued some kind of personal creative activity, and that for 19% of folks that was photography.
I would love to hear from more people who may have surprised themselves with a new hobby or interest while stuck at home and/or the joys that people’s furry companions have brought them in the Covid era. Let’s connect!
Photo: Tilda the muse poses on her newly built cat shelf as Emily explores her budding photography hobby.