If you thought cat photos were something new, you’d not only be greatly mistaken, you’d be stepping all over the life’s work of one Mr. Harry Whittier Frees.
Born in 1879, this American photographer made his fortune taking photographs of cute kittens and puppies dressed up in human clothes and posed in human environments, which he then turned into postcards, calendars and even children’s books.
These predecessors to the well-known LOLcats memes are as adorable as they are funny, but it didn’t come easy. As explained in his book, Animal Land on the Air, these photographs, “represent an almost inconceivable amount of patience, care and kind attention, as well as a very large number of spoiled films.”
Later in the book, he goes on to say that, “these unusual photographs of real animals were made possible only by patient, unfailing kindness on the part of the photographer at all times.”
As every photographer has experienced personally, Frees said that some subjects were more photogenic than others:
Rabbits are the easiest to photograph in costume, but incapable of taking many ”human“ parts. Puppies are tractable when rightly understood, but the kitten is the most versatile animal actor, and possesses the greatest variety of appeal.
The pig is the most difficult to deal with, but effective on occasion. The best period of young animal models is a short one, being when they are from six to ten weeks of age. An interesting fact is that a kitten’s attention is best held through the sense of sight, while that of a puppy is most influenced by sound, and equally readily distracted by it. The native reasoning powers of young animals are, moreover, quite as pronounced as those of the human species, and relatively far surer.
According to an article over on One More River, Frees’ animal photos were taken at as low of a shutter speed at 1/5th of a second, meaning that as many as two-thirds of his negatives turned out as useless blurs. And while he seems to be the owner of quite a few cute animals, it’s said that many of his subjects were borrowed from friends, neighbors, breeders and pet shops.
Although there doesn’t seem to be any conclusive evidence either way, quite a few resources available online say that at least some of his subjects had to be taxidermy pieces. This, of course, would greatly diminish the effort needed to capture such a photograph. So, for now, we suggest you enjoy his photography and take his words with at least a pinch of salt.
If you’re wondering what type of products Frees sold from these photographs, you can actually see for yourself first hand, as you can purchase a few of his books over on Amazon.
Many of Frees’ photographs are available over on the Library of Congress’ website, so if you’d like to see more, feel free to head on over there and dive through 32 pages of animal adorableness.
For our part, we’ll leave you with a selection of our favorites: