Jim Dratfield is the artistic mastermind behind the successful fine art animal photography studio, Petography. But, Dratfield really can’t take all the credit for his photography creation. His beloved and late dog Kuma was the initial inspiration and muse for Dratfield’s classic pet photography that has lead to hundreds of other animals immortalized through distinctive and characteristically true photos. Jim Dratfield captures the essence, soul and uniqueness of each animal subject he shoots. His lists of clients represent the Who’s Who of the pet-loving celebrity kingdom, including Jennifer Aniston, Barbara Walters, Henry Kissinger, Tori Spelling and Lara Flynn Boyle, just to name a select few. Another accomplishment that Dratfield can be proud of are his eight published pet photography books that he created, with clever titles and themes such as, day of the Daschund, Catography, The Quotable Equine and Pug Shots. New York Magazine called Jim Dratfield’s pet photography, “The best in New York.”
Animal Fair met up with Jim Dratfield at Petography to get a close-up look at the photographer and his specialized pet-friendly work.
AF: How did you get started shooting animal photography?
JD: I’ve been photographing animals for fifteen years. I fell in to it by accident, I was an actor for fourteen years. Actually, I worked on Broadway when I was twenty and had a role in “The Man Who Came To Dinner” and played the son who runs off to become a photographer. I could have saved myself fourteen years of angst by changing careers then. I had a wonderful and very docile Akita named Kuma, I decided to design a promotional piece with him to promote myself as an actor. And when I looked at the photographs a little light bulb went off. I thought I love fine art photography and I love animals. I always played with animal photography, but I didn’t want to leave one struggling art form for another. Then I didn’t see anyone else doing it as a fine art form, I saw a lot of crappy animal photography. I thought there must be a market for this. It took over my life and my career. My late dog really gave me my career, which is pretty wonderful.
AF: What’s one of the funniest stories that you can recall when photographing an animal?
JD: One of the funniest shoots I ever did was eight years ago for Henry and Nancy Kissinger. So I’m out in the backyard working with Nancy Kissinger, and Henry’s mother. All of a sudden the back door swings open and out walks a half-naked Henry Kissinger with no shirt on and his pants falling down. Nancy said, ‘Your pants are too big,’ and Henry said, ‘They are the only ones that fit.’ And then Nancy said, ‘Where is your shirt,’ and he replied, ‘I couldn’t find one that fits.’ So I had a half-naked Henry Kissinger behind me with his mother standing over his shoulder, making funny noises to his dog while I’m taking photographs. It was quite a funny scene.
AF: Has photography always been an important art form in your life?
JD: I’ve always been very visual. The fun for me is to go to people’s homes to do this and not have a cookie cutter photo session, but to juxtapose some of the architectural elements of the home and put that in with the animals. It’s more of a personal photo shoot for the client and it’s a lot more interesting for me to think on my toes and feet. It’s exciting, and animals are more comfortable in their own setting and I love that combination.
AF: Will you share with us some of your tricks of the trade?
JD: Each animal is different, I have a Black Lab, Caleb now and if I bring food out, he’ll drool like a madman and that’s not a pretty site in a photo shoot. You always find there’s something, some times it’s a word, a food, a toy, you never know what it’s going to be. I always say the ‘hardest dog is easier than the easiest cat’ in terms of photography. With cats, all you want to do is have them sit on the couch, give them catnip and make them happy and suddenly they will go hide under the bed. But that usually does not make the most beautiful photograph. So what I’ll do, is lay a tapestry, like a smock over my client, and then put the cat on their lap. Between the person and the cat is the tapestry and then focus on the area where the cat is on the tapestry. Basically the client is the living backdrop, so you don’t see the person in the shot. The cat is more comfortable on the owner’s lap and you can get really great shots.
AF: Have you photographed many wild animals?
JD: I mostly shoot dogs, cats and horses. On occasion when I get the chance to shoot wild animals, I have to be more creative in finding ways to make it artistic. For example, I shot a picture of an iguana with a woman, and I just thought I’d try and make it not such a straight forward portrait. It was fun to play with that! I’ve really traveled the country and even the world shooting in different locations for various clients and projects. I’ve just finished my ninth book that comes out next year, called A Dog For All Seasons, which will be seasonal imagery that I’ve taken coupled with quotes.
For more information on Jim Dratfield and Petography visit: www.petography.com.
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