Catherine Ledner was born into a creative New Orleans family where "no two walls were parallel and no ceilings were flat," owing to her architect dad. Growing up in a home full of dogs, rats, rabbits, guinea pigs, fish and turtles led to her lifelong love of animals. After graduating from NYU with a degree in film, she worked in television for a year and a half. She then worked as a studio manager for a photographer in New York, which led to her eventual move to Pasadena to study photography at Art Center College of Design.
Catherine's work has appeared in numerous publications including Travel & Leisure, Dwell, New York Times Magazine, and Vanity Fair. Her first book, "Animal House" is available through Welcome Books and Amazon.com. Catherine currently lives in South Pasadena with her husband Kyle, their dogs, Dodger, Gracie and Little Bear, two cats and several rabbits.
I met Catherine in 1998 when she shot two covers for me when I was DP for a women's start-up financial magazine (EQUITY). Both shoots were tons of fun, and I loved Catherine's zest for her work, and her ability to find something wonderful no matter how sterile the environment. I visited her this last January and saw the beginnings of her newest book, "Glamour Dogs." I knew immediately that I wanted to interview her for this blog.
Tell me when and why did you start shooting animals?
I started shooting animals in the studio against wallpaper in 2001. I was shooting a fair amount of advertising at the time and finally had the funds to realize my dream. I could hire wild animals and buy any wallpaper my heart desired.
How did Animal House come about?
Basically, it came from my head. I love animals and thought it would be great to shoot them in the studio on crazy cool wallpaper. I’d never seen that done before and it looked good in my head.
Was it hard getting your book deal?
Not at all. PQ Blackwell, out of New Zealand contacted me after seeing the animal images on Getty. They were interested in pitching a book. That first book came out in 2007 and is called Animal House.
What made you decide to do Glamour Dogs?
I wanted to do a second book and needed a subject that was more accessible and less expensive. I could no longer afford fancy animals and trainers. I love dogs and thought it would be fun to shoot them in a glamorous way. It was great working with all “real” dogs. Only the afghan was an agency dog with some training. Every other dog was just a regular dog, having his or her day! The owners and I had fun. The sets were similar to Animal House because it worked with the theme and it’s what my publisher was looking for.
Can you tell us any stories about shooting particular animals?
Well dogs are the best. I can relate to them the way I relate to people. They are very intuitive and fun. One of the owners (also a vet) brought 3 of his 15 dogs. They were crazy fun jumping off the walls and all begging for attention. Getting a shot where all 3 sat still (for a second) was quite a challenge.
As for the trained animals from Animal House, they were all a joy to behold. The Flamingos arrived in special crates that held their long necks up without getting hurt in the drive. When they walked on set it was a beautiful thing. I love the way long necked animals like flamingos, ostriches and swans move. They move in a constant ballet. So graceful to behold.
I see Little Bear is in the book, what about Gracie?
Little Bear is in the book. He was shot against an old fashioned looking paper that brings out his natural regal look. His long hair was freshly washed and he sparkled. Gracie was shot on the same pink sofa that the French Bulldog (on the cover) was shot and she got lost on the cutting room floor. I needed a new photo for the book jacket so I posed with a freshly cut Gracie so she would make it in – even if it was just at the end with me.
Dodger, of Animal House fame, is also in the book. I can’t believe she made it in. Being almost 11 years old and turning a bit grey – but she is the consummate poser so of course she did well and became a “Glamour Dog”. She is on a beautiful ivory inlaid chair that I rented from a prop house.
How are you faring in today’s market?
I’m getting by. It has been challenging. I try to adopt the attitude that “necessity is the mother of invention” and I am working on myself and my work in a different way than I did before. All and all things are doing well. I am extremely grateful to have Glamour Dogs coming out. Dumont (a European company) has made a stunning 2010 calendar with 12 of the images from Animal House and they have plans for two 2011 calendars, one with more Animal House images and another with 12 Glamour Dog images. I am also selling fine art prints from Animal House and am planning on getting involved with Etsy and selling smaller prints that are not in limited editions. I am also shooting assignment work for magazines and am chasing the ad work as best I can.
What would be your dream job?
I would love to be sent to a remote place and shoot a stock library for a great client like HP. I love traveling and meeting new people. I also love to shoot many different types of things. I would make a visual diary of the place. That would be my dream job for sure.
What’s next for you?
I am continuing to keep my head above water first and foremost. Then I think I will start shooting a seriously fun book about Gracie, my standard poodle. I don’t want to give away my plan – but it will be different than the wallpaper series. I see it in my head so clearly – now I just need to make the time and shoot it!