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The Intimacy of Cat Photography

Sep 30, 2019 | 831 videos
Video by Mark Zemel

The feline photographer Larry Johnson prides himself on capturing the idiosyncratic essence of people’s cats. “I like getting intimate with the cats,” he says in Mark Zemel’s short documentary, The Purrtraitist. “I like their personalities.”

Johnson is a mainstay in the niche world of cat shows, where he photographs pedigreed cats who are competing for national and regional titles. In the film, we meet him at a show in Parsippany, New Jersey, which his wife, Susan, is managing.

“People sometimes say to me, ‘Oh, cats don’t have many expressions,’” Johnson says in the film. “But they do. They have as many expressions as dogs, but cats are much more subtle.” If you’re attuned to the nuances of feline body language, Johnson explains, cats’ dynamic emotions become apparent.

Of course, cats have a reputation for being independent, so manipulating their behavior for a portrait is almost out of the question. Rather than fight the feline nature, Johnson embraces it. “Cats do their own thing, so you have to get them to do their own thing with you,” he says. “You have to take their mind off of what else is going on, and then they’ll relax.”

Zemel, who initially met Johnson at a cat show, told me he loved Johnson’s portraits so much that he signed his own cat, Noodle, up for a photo shoot. “The images he creates are really elegant and glamorous,” Zemel said. “What's most striking about them, though, is that they capture the warmth and personality of the cats.”

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Author: Emily Buder

About This Series

A showcase of cinematic short documentary films, curated by The Atlantic.