Friday, August 9, 2013

Photo Op

In the cat fancy, there are also cat photographers.  Yes, professional photographers who make a living by specializing in cat photography.  The big names have their signature emblazoned on the award winning cats of the year and published in cat magazines, books, our websites and at award shows (again, for cats).  Most of the photos are taken at cat shows, where a photographer is provided with a separate room or area where he or she can line up feline models of all ages and breeds throughout the weekend.   The good ones bring an array of toys and techniques to entice and relax the cat enough to show off its best side.

Tetsu Yamazaki and his wife, Hiroko, first visited our home about nine years ago.  I had signed up for a home visit while at a cat show where they were working.  The home photo sessions are free, with the cat owners signing away the rights to whatever pictures Tetsu may sell to publications.  Although he works in the cat show venue, Tetsu figured out decades ago that cats were more relaxed having their photos taken in the comfort of their own home. 

I had sold Tetsu on the idea of coming to my house with the litter of five-week-old kittens I had, the first litter out of the cat from my first breeding, Ginger.  The theme of that litter was food; Popcorn, Macaroni, Pumpkin, Peppercorn and Cinnamon were the kittens' call names.  At that time, Hiroko was trying out a new digital camera she had on some of the other creatures of the house; mainly our dog, Chardonnay, and my son Tyler's bearded dragons. Tetsu was using 35 mm film back then and went through countless rolls.  I had recently watched the movie Lost in Translation and was reminded of it often that day.  Being Japanese natives, our visitors spoke limited English.  Still, their English was way better than my Japanese (and my Spanish, French, German, etc.).

Kitten photo session.  The boys were getting sleepy, but Peppercorn (left) just kept going.
After the kittens were worn out and the photo session was over, the Yamazaki's were leaving and Tetsu spotted my husband tying fishing flies, an obsession he has.  "Ah, you fly fish?" Tetsu asked.  Well, that started a whole different kind of conversation.  Tetsu had a hand-held translater so he could tell Jay the Japanese word for trout, striper and other fish-related lingo.  They left with a promise from Jay to take him fly-fishing the next time he was in the area.

Several months later after this first Tetsu photo session, I received a magazine cover in the mail.  The cover text was in Japanese with Cat Catalog written in English at the top.  The kitten pictured on the cover looked familiar.  Peppercorn!  My kitten was a cover girl!  The rest of the litter appeared in the magazine and I've since seen their pictures in Cat Fancy Magazine for their special Maine Coon issue (in which yours truly was also interviewed for an article).  I floated for a good long time, feeling pretty important that my kittens were published internationally. 

My Cover Girl
I recently received an email from Tetsu, advising me that he would be visiting cat breeders' homes in the Northeast and would I like for him to photograph my cats?  Of course, and be prepared to fish I told him.  Naturally, the day Tetsu and Hiroko came was the hottest day of the year, 95 degrees with steaming humidity.  They were relieved to find our house is air-conditioned.  Since Tetsu and Hiroko's last visit, the dog has become grey and arthritic with age and the bearded dragons have found a new home.  Ginger and the kittens have gone on but I have hung onto the kittens' grandmother, Sassy.

I have a litter of five kittens who are distant cousins to my kittens from before.  Sassy is their great-great grandmother.  Hiroko was impressed with the "old cat" so Sassy got her own photo session this time.  Olivia, my feral-looking brown tabby and her four-month-old kittens (two I'm keeping, two are still waiting on their owner to move into her new house so she can claim them) also had their respective chances to look cute for Tetsu's lens. 

Tetsu(foreground) and Hiroko photograph Tippet's litter
After a couple of hours of this, I invited them outside to look at our chickens.  More pictures, especially of Aslan, our magnificent Cochin rooster.  Hiroko recognized the word Cochin as it originally hails from China.  She was enthralled with the two silky hens, also a Chinese breed.  I picked up Buffy, the Buff Orpington hen, because she's an attention seeker and handed her to Hiroko.  Her face beamed; her first time holding a chicken she said.  What a wonderful opportunity I'm giving Hiroko, I thought.  Then I remembered that I don't think I ever held a chicken until I got my own backyard flock. 

We packed up the van and headed out to the Westbrook Fishing Club, where Jay's go-to pond lies.  It was late afternoon, still hotter than hell.  I felt pessimistic that the only fish we'd catch would already be fried.  Tetsu set up his fly rod and Hiroko's fishing pole, literally a 15-foot wooden pole, no reel, just a line and a fly that Jay gave him to try. 

Hiroko caught in excess of 15 fish on her wooden pole, one after another.  Jay and Tetsu did okay too, but I could tell Hiroko was very proud of besting the boys.  Watching our husbands pose with their catch for a picture, Hiroko remarked, "They look like little boys."  And they do.  I posted a few pictures on Facebook, in awe that we were hanging out with such a world renowned photographer (I know it's not Annie Leibovitz, but I live in a small, secluded world with paws and litter boxes).  The fish caught were just small sunfish as the bigger guys have to hunker down in colder deep water during the heat of the summer for survival. 

Tetsu and Jay

The most rewarding part was watching Hiroko.  She squealed with excitement everytime she caught one, chasing it around on the bridge with her hands so she could release it back to the water.  She had said that she and Tetsu traveled to the States many times over the past 30 years, but this was the first time they'd been fishing here.  After our guests and the fish were tired, Hiroko smiled and proclaimed it had been a good day. 
Hiroko poses with her first catch of many


  1. What a great story! Some of my best times have been with people from other countries, so I understand how exciting all this was, not to mention the Yamazak's fame as photographers. The interview in Cat Fancy magazine: is it available? Your dad would like to read it. :-)

    1. I dont' have it, but next time you are in a Pet Smart or Petco, look to see if there is an issue dedicated to Maine Coon cats. They may still have it out, even though it was several years ago.

  2. It was a memorable day, getting to fish with a fellow angler from Japan!

  3. Ah, good to see the follow-up from the initial photography session. Was it really that long ago? Although, we did just celebrate Cahill's tenth birthday!