A cry that changed a life. A tiny little cry on a New York night coming from the back of a snowy alley. The year was 1949 and a man pricked up his ears as he passed by. There, against a wall, stood a stray kitten starving and meowing. The man scooped him up in his arms, took him home and fed him. The man was Walter Chandoha and his destiny changed forever that day, for he went on to become the greatest cat photographer in history. Thousands and thousands of images, hundreds of magazine covers, dozens of books published on the subject… An entire life dedicated to shooting the feline form from every angle imaginable.
Walter Chandoha was already a photographer when that kitten appeared in the night. As a teenager, he had been fascinated by picture books, and as a young adult, he had been sent to the Pacific to cover the actions of American soldiers during WWII. “The war taught me to how to react, adapt, improvise, and tinker with the equipment on hand to get the shot I wanted,” he says in the introduction to the Cats book published by Taschen. An invaluable lesson he would go on to use his whole life in order to catch the supple silhouettes of these four-legged companions. For over the course of his life, Walter Chandoha developed an incredible gift for freezing the images of these languid and changing animals known for their fickle personalities.
The photographer was always able to count on his wife, who knew how to appease the cats with caresses and who would get them ready for the shoot. Before a photo shoot, she would spend time with them and let Walter know when the cats were ready. Most of the time, he photographed them in the studio, under the glare of six spotlights. He used cameras he thought were best for giving him “constant control of the image”, as he explained, like a Hasselblad, an RB67 or a Nikon, for example. The main thing was to capture the sometimes extremely quick movements of the cats and to successfully produce a new incarnation of them that remained true to their nature. Using cats as his subjects opened up “an infinite horizon of possibilities” for Walter Chandoha, as he was fond of stressing. In this case, the horizon is a gorgeous book that pays tribute to him.
By Jean-Baptiste Gauvin
Walter Chandoha. Cats. Photographs 1942-2018
Walter Chandoha, Susan Michals, Reuel Golden
Hardcover, 226 pages