Photographer Jim Dratfield is interested in relationships; relationships between pets and people that is.
“I’ll tell you about the most amazing moment I had,” Jim says. “Laura Dern knew about my work and she had a dog that was very ill. The dog was not going to survive for more than a few days, and she was not sure if doing a photo session would be macabre or celebratory. So I went to her house and we decided we would only do the shoot if the dog was up to it. I did the photos for her and then after she had to put her dog down, I sent her one of them. She called me in tears saying it was a profound moment for her. I got off the phone and thought ‘I really understand why I do what I do for a living.” It’s such a wonderful career because it touches people on such a deep level.”
What Dratfield does it take candid, artistic shots of clients and their pets. Known mostly for his exquisite sepia and black and white work, Dratfield has also become interested in color images. “Cats’ eyes can have amazing color,” he says, “and in color you really capture that essence.”
The essence of his business is based on his true love of animals. Dratfield’s Akida, Kuma, passed away several years ago but, claims Dratifled, the beloved dog was the inspiration for his work as a photographer. The former actor who worked on Broadway and in television, and he admits, in a few restaurants as well, decided to create a commercial and promotional piece to help his acting career along.
He approached a friend, who later became a partner in Petography, to help him with the project which included Kuma. “After putting it together,” says Dratfield, “I looked it over and realized how much I loved the imagery! I started to wonder if there was a market for fine art pet photography.”
Several years later, and two books later (The Quotable Canine, 1995, and The Quotable Feline, 1996) Dratfield was on his own, running Petography and amassing quite an impressive client list that includes Jennifer Aniston, Henry Winkler, Michael Eisner, Henry Kissinger and Kathy Bates, among others.
Dratfield doesn’t see much of a difference between his celebrity clients and the everyday people with whom he works, however, when it comes to animal affection and the impact a pet can have on a person’s life. “It’s a loving celebration,” he says.
That celebration takes Dratfield all over the country into clients’ homes where he hopes to capture a unique image on film. “I am less interested in studio shots,’ he says, “And more interested in going into people’s homes. I think it makes the imagery more personal.
Dratfield’s current pet companion is a five year-old black Lab named Caleb. The pair met a photo shoot and the adorable puppy was just what Dratfield was looking for having lost Kuma one and a half years earlier. “People would say to me, you have to replace him;” says Dratfield of others’ reactions to Kuma’s passing. “I was really angst ridden by this. You don’t just replace a member of your family, you find a new relationship.”
And so, Caleb and Dratfield came together. You won’t find Caleb in any of Dratfield’s books, however. “He’s not in my third book, Pug Shots, because he’s not a pug. And I never take him to the studio because he’s a bad influence. But we’re in therapy right now trying to work this out,” he jokes.
In fact, there is a good deal of humor and sincerity to be found in Dratfield’s portraits. He enjoys spontaneity and the process of capturing the unique personalities of his subjects, both two and four-legged. “I don’t base my sessions on time per film,” he says. “I never expect animals to be models. Each situation is an adventure for me, which is part of the fun. The joy is the creativity in the moment.”
Creativity comes in handy when you work with some of the amazing creatures that have crossed this photographer’s path. While the majority of his commissioned work includes dogs, cats and horses, Dratfield has had a few exotic adventures with clients as well. He’s shot four rescued elephants in New Hampshire, skink lizards, a flying squirrel, and has even traveled to Iowa to capture three generations of therapists and their poodles on film.
According to Dratfield, pets are pets and people relate to hamsters just as intensely as dogs and cats. “It doesn’t matter what the pet is – the relationship is still important,” he says.
Now at work on his next book, Underdog: Beauty is More Than Just Fur Deep. Dratfield is busy filling holiday orders and creating fabulous keepsakes for pet loving clients. Here, in the pages if Animal Fair, he shares with us some of his favorite images. Enjoy!