On a winter’s night in 1949 in New York City, young marketing student and budding photographer Walter Chandoha spotted a stray kitten in the snow, bundled it into his coat, and brought it home. Little did he know he had just met the muse that would determine the course of his life. Chandoha turned his lens on his new feline friend—which he named Loco—and was so inspired by the results that he started photographing kittens from a local shelter. These images marked the start of an extraordinary career that would span seven decades.
Long before the Internet and #catsofinstagram, Chandoha was enrapturing the public with his fuzzy subjects. From advertisements to greetings cards, jigsaw puzzles to pet-food packaging, his images combined a genuine affection for the creatures, a strong work ethic, and flawless technique. Chandoha’s trademark glamorous lighting, which made each cat’s fur stand out in sharp relief, would define the visual vocabulary of animal portraiture for generations and inspire such masters as Andy Warhol, who took cues from Chandoha’s charming portraits in his illustrated cat book.
Cats leaps into the archives of this genre-defining artist, spanning color studio and environmental portraits, black-and-white street photography, images from vintage cat shows, tender pictures that combine his children with cats and more. This is a fitting tribute not just to these beguiling creatures but also to a remarkable photographer who passed away in 2019 at the age of 98; and whose compassion can be felt in each and every frame.
Walter Chandoha (1920–2019) was a combat photographer in the Second World War, before a chance encounter with a cat led him on a path that would shape his professional career. He is regarded as the world’s greatest domestic animal photographer with a career spanning over seven decades and an archive of more than 200,000 photographs. His photographs have appeared on over 300 magazine covers, thousands of advertisements, and were regularly featured in magazines such as Life, Look, and their equivalents around the world.