Vanessa von Zitzewitz never considered becoming a photographer until she studied graphic design at the Parsons School of Design in New York City, where she took a photography course to gain credits. Her teacher was enthused by her work and pushed her to be more visually creative.
At twenty-six years old, Vanessa got a call from Cartier America and was asked if she was interested in taking photographs for a book titled, Untamed. Cartier is famous for its campaigns with animals and this stunning book was a charity project for the non-profit organization called Delta Society. This charitable organization’s main mission is to improve human health through service and therapy animals.
Because she wanted this project to be something special, von Zitzewitz insisted that celebrities such as Lisa Marie Presley, Sarah Jessica Parker, Daisy Fuentes, and IMAN be photographed with wild animals. They discovered a farm located 1.5 hours outside of New York City where over a thousand old, sick, abused, and abandoned zoo animals live and are watched over. Simba, a lion from Africa, was abandoned on a rooftop, and left for a couple of weeks before he was rescued and moved to the farm. Von Zitzewitz took beautiful pictures of Simba, but unfortunately he didn’t like her assistant. He became overly nervous and went wild, so she decided to photograph the sessions alone with him.
The opportunity to be that close to such a beautiful, exotic animal and actually pet it, was a once in a lifetime experience for von Zitzewitz.
When a photographer captures the perfect image, nobody imagines what can and often does go wrong behind the scenes, especially when animals are involved. For example, the Untamed cover photo shoot with Lisa Marie Presley was full of mishaps; the flash broke, the elephant stepped on her dress, and spat at her. Von Zitzewitz being a true artist has learned to improvise in spontaneous situations like these while still catching the “magic of the moment”.
Computer technology aids modern creativity in a high-tech way by providing the opportunity to correct and/or crop any visual impurities. The computer-enhanced additions can help generate interesting pictures that might not have been envisioned or used without the modifications.
Von Zitzewitz can’t close her eyes when it comes to animals in despair. She saved a carriage horse named Napoli in Neapel, Italy in 2003. The animal was in such poor health that she vowed to buy it from its owner. After a three-hour odyssey through Pompeii accompanied by a vet, she finally found Napoli (which turned out to be a major mission since the owner gave her the wrong address) and a horse transport via ship was organized. They sent the horse to Hamburg, Germany. Nobody thought Napoli would survive the long trip considering his unhealthy condition (two inch deep wounds covering his body). But, surprisingly he made it!
Now, Napoli lives happily on a farm in northern Germany with other three horses that von Zitzewitz saved. She has a special connection with her horses and rides everyday which strengthens their bond.
“This is the most important thing when talking about animals and humans, the only difference is that you retrieve that respect from animals, very rarely from humans,” says von Zitzewitz.
Her most recent rescue happened while working on her current project, an illustrated book, during a walk in the Kung Toey slums of Bangkok, Thailand. Von Zitzewitz lived in an orphanage for three weeks that was built by priest, Father Joe, also fondly nicknamed “The Saint”. The orphanage provides over 300 children a home and the chance for an education. She found a little stray puppy that was completely filthy and full of flees. Father Joe and von Zitzewitz cleaned the homeless canine and named it “Suay”, which means beautiful in Thai. After three days, Suay was happily sleeping on her back with all four paws in the air. She received all her shots but due to the customs conditions, had to be watched for three months before being allowed to enter Europe. Von Zitzewitz is considering looking for a new home for Suay in Thailand, due to the colder climate in Europe compared to the warmer weather the pup is accustomed.
Another book von Zitzewitz had published is titled Monachrome – featured fifty-five personalities from Monaco. She photographed them and asked about their hopes and dreams for the new millennium. Most of them recited similar affirmations such as; “no war”, “better cures for diseases” and “help for children”. But nobody mentioned support and love for animals. That’s why von Zitzewitz added a photo of her adorable Jack Russell, Rockabar, whose wish for the new millennium was,
“I hope that everybody learns to love and respect animals.”