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When Dogs Heal New York Shoot

I spent the weekend in New York photographing dogs for 'When Dogs Heal' - the project I've been working on for the past year with Fred Says. Fred Says (run by a favorite old client of mine) is a non profit organization that funds youth HIV research, education and medical services and is driven by the most adorable tiny Yorkie named Fred. As the face of the organization, Fred allows people to see a softer side of the HIV epidemic, moving aside stigma and replacing it with adoprable dog photos. In turn, Fred Says is able to raise and donate tens of thousands of dollars every year to HIV youth support. 'When Dogs Heal' is an off-shoot of Fred Says pairing emotional portraits of people living with HIV and AIDS and their animal companions with moving first-person accounts of how their dogs have literally kept them alive. It's a project that has been a priority in my schedule for the past year simply because I believe so whole heartedly that the issue of HIV/AIDS has been swept under the rug after so many years in the spotlight. Yet there is still no cure. People continue to die, and people continue to get infected at a frighteningly high rate. Bringing any exposure to the issue and keeping the conversation going means helping people stay alive. And for that reason, When Dogs Heal is so important to me.

On top of that, as I move forward in my career and make some changes in my work I have come to realize that all my photography- whether it is work for a private client, or work for a book, or work for an editorial piece or simply a personal side project- is getting more and more focused on the healing aspects of the dog/human bond. Through photographing relationships between humans and their dogs, I am getting deeper and deeper into the psychological threads of the history of dog portraiture. And it is completely fascinating.

When Dogs Heal will debut with a multi-city exhibit around World AIDS Day in December 2015. More info will be available about this amazing project once our website launches (soon…!!) For now, here are some behind-the-scenes shots of this weekend's studio session in New York. And a recent image from the last San Francisco shoot as well.

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How To Save Our Animal Shelters

We all know our animal shelters are in trouble. They are understaffed, under funded, and more importantly over crowded. There's no use in pointing fingers, but when it comes down to it the only place to point is at us humans. 11889779

Yes, we humans found the canine race early on and formed an unbreakable bond that has lasted through the ages and evolved into what we now call 'pets' (one of my most unfavorite words). How does an intellectual, wild wolf evolve into a culture of abandoned pets crammed into crowded shelters? Humans, that's how.

We've become complacent and irresponsable in our love for the canine race, and now is our chance to change our behavior. The ASPCA and Humane Society were founded hundreds of years ago for this very reason- to change how people treated their animals- clearly because the epidemic of abusing and neglecting animals was happening even then. And now in our modern day, shelters are full of dogs and cats and rabbits and mice and birds and farm animals because we have learned that though we can love an animal, there is no repurcussion for suddenly abandoning them at the drop of a hat. And that has created a society where dropping a dog off at a shelter simply because it peed on your couch, or lighting your neighbor's cat on fire simply because you were bored is 100% acceptable behavior. This needs to stop, and as an artist and an animal lover and a human I feel it is my responability to help move our society forward.


Finding Shelter is my response, and here's why: Right now the only solution we've come up with is to take endearing pictures of pets in our shelter system. And when that fad started it was such a revolutionary thing! It was new and it was exciting and it was beautiful and let people finally see shelter animals as good pets, not simply unwanted animals. What a wonderful and creative idea it was. But at this point, that tactic is no longer effective. We've all been inundated with 'cute' photos of shelter animals in all forms- silly, pretty, funny, behind bars, not behind bars, in a studio, with a colorful background, outside on a leash, inside on a leash, etc etc. But it's time to advance this tactic, and that is why I started Finding Shelter.

Our shelter system is all about the people. It always has been. Look at these old photos of early shelters- who are we looking at in these images? We already know there are abandoned animals in the shelter, but what the viewer is craving to see, what they want to know about is the people doing all this tiring work. And that's the only question I'm interested in at this point, as well.




Behind the Scenes of our Finding Shelter Video

findingshelter.bts6.jessefreidin I'll be launching the Kickstarter fundraising campaign for my Finding Shelter book in a few weeks, and recently met up with my good friend and documentary film maker Eva Moss at the spcaLA to create our Kickstarter video.  Eva filmed me photographing a bunch of amazing spcaLA volunteers for the Finding Shelter series- as always, the spcaLA staff and volunteers were nothing less than welcoming, hopsitable and incredibly patient with all of us. Two cameras, two photographers, one assistant, and lots of shelter animals coming in and out of our pop-up studio. Here are some fun behind the scenes images of our shoot. You can visit the Finding Shelter website here: to learn more about this inspirational portrait series celebrating the intimate bond between animal shelter volunteer and the abandoned animals they care for.

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Finding Shelter Update

The official Finding Shelter website is live, and I'm really happy with how it looks. It's also the first website that I built 90% on my own, which I have to say I'm kind of proud about. It certainly took a long time, and lots of coffee, and late nights, and yelling at my computer (how do professional web designers do it!?), but finally the project is online. It's the first of it's kind, and documents the intimate bond formed between animal shelter and rescue volunteers, and the abandoned animals they care for. Finding Shelter started in San Francisco and Los Angeles, but I'll be starting to raise funds via Kickstarter soon so that I can travel the country and work with shelters from coast to coast, turning the final product into a Finding Shelter book. On the website you can see portraits of volunteers/animals paired with accounts- in their own words- about why they do such intense work. Volunteering can be emotionally draining at times, it can be thankless, tireless, frustrating and heartbreaking. It can also be uplifting, life changing, joyful and miraculous. The Finding Shelter series aims to document all these aspects and more through honest and emotional black and white portraits. Below is one of my favorites from the series. Please visit the new Finding Shelter website to see more:  

Finding Shelter: Animal Shelter Volunteer Portraits

I often have the public make the comment to me when they see my work with shelter cats, ‘It’s so great that you work with these animals, you give so much to them’. I then correct them and tell them ‘You have it backwards; the animals give me a lot more than I give them.'” -- TIM + RHONDA, Peninsula Humane Society: Burlingame, CA




A Visit to the BADRAP Barn's Puppies

Im lucky enough to know a guy, who knows a guy, who knows some puppies. Well, really I just am lucky enough to know the super smart and kind people up at the BADRAP barn in Oakland, CA and when I'm in town I always try to get out there to help out a bit, pet some dogs, take some pictures, and have a beer around the campfire. When I visited the other week the litter of four puppies (pit/mastiff mix??- we've all got our theories on what those roll polly sweet little blobs are) that have been living at the barn for the past few months were nearing the end of their stay. So, of course, I got to spend a few days playing with them, loving on them, helping clean up after them, and wondering how anyone could ever survive taking care of more than one puppy at at time. It's so hard! Thankfully, the puppies- just like all the dogs at the BADRAP barn- have tons of outdoor space to romp around in and lots of other grown up dogs to teach them their manners. There isn't much cuter than a fat, well trained, soft playful pitbull puppy, I'll tell ya that much. Below are some adorable photos of adorable dogs. BADRAP pitbull puppy

BADRAP puppies

BADRAP puppy

BADRAP puppy




A Half Moon Bay Dog Photography Session

Ben and his human live in one of the best parts of Northern California- Half Moon Bay. I was invited to take a magical early morning walk among the cyprus trees at Moss Beach for this Half Moon Bay dog photography session- the light streaming through the branches and the brightness relfecting off the enormous ocean and bouncing off the thin layer of marine fog gave us a few hours of soft, cool light in which to photograph. Ben- a large white Great Pyrenees mix- was over-joyed to be running around this little local Half Moon Bay forest, zigging and zagging through the trees and playing with his human. I start every dog photography session with a mandatory meeting at my San Francisco dog photography studio so that I can get to know my clients on a deeper level, and so that we can discuss what their relationship with their companions is truly like, and most importantly plan our dog photography session. This is such a crucial part of my process, because it is during this first meeting that I am building (in my mind) a fully formed mental image of this completely unique relationship, and transferring that into visual imagery in my head. These concepts will guide me during our San Francisco dog photography session, allowing me to be free to simply create images- informed by the information my clients have given me and the deep understanding I have gained about their relationship with their dogs.  It is an intense process- start to finish- for both my clients and I. In the end, the result is a series of black and white dog portraits that are truly unique to their experience and intensely honest. San Francisco Dog Photography San Francisco Dog Photographer Dog Photographer in San Francisco



When Dogs Heal- HIV and Companion Animals

For the past year I've been working on a very inspiring and challenging project with an old client of mine from Chicago, Dr Rob Garofalo. Rob was introduced to my work via my father, when while at a doctor's conference (about some sort of medical thing), Rob found himself flipping through his phone, looking at photos of his beautiful new Yorkie puppy. My father was sitting next to him, and being the proud dad that he is told Rob that his son (that's me) was a dog photographer in San Francisco and wouldn't it be nice if Rob got some wonderful portraits of his new puppy. That lead Rob right to me, and after flying all the way out to sunny San Francisco from Chicago- I spent a warm morning with Rob and Fred the Yorkie at Stowe Lake in Golden Gate Park. Together we created a beautiful series of black and white portraits of Rob and Fred, and a great friendship formed between all of us. When Dogs Heal came out of that friendship, and has allowed me to tell a truly fascinating story about the human/animal bond alongside one amazing doctor, and one amazing writer. When Dogs Heal is a portrait and story telling project about the incredible healing power of canine companions within the HIV positive community. Dr Garofalo leads the Lurie Children's Hospital's HIV prevention program and is HIV positive. His experience with his dog Fred helped him through his own diagnosis, and from that the concept for When Dogs Heal was born. As an artist who is in love with telling deeply emotional stories about the human/animal bond- I knew When Dogs Heal would be such a great opportunity for Rob and I and our writer Zach to collaborate and share an experience that so many HIV positive people have lived through.

Portraits from this series are accompanied by personal accounts of how canine companions have helped the community stay healthy, hopeful, and unconditionally supported through moments of diagnosis, loss, and joy. We have photographed communities in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago and New York and plan on exhibiting (unveiling) the series on World Aids Day 2015 in New York City. More information will be shared soon, along with a website and invitations to the public to get involved. For now, here are some of my favoite When Dogs Heal portraits- it's all very exciting, and is a real honor to be working on. 

When Dogs Heal: HIV and Healing Dogs When Dogs Heal When Dogs Heal When Dogs Heal When Dogs Heal When Dogs Heal: HIV and Dogs



Topanga Canyon Dog Portraits

Los Angeles Dog Photography I photographed Roofus, Laddie and Benny up in gorgeous Topanga Canyon recently. High up in the hills of Los Angeles, these Topanga Canyon dog portraits are full of that perfect LA canyon light. It feels a bit similar to my favorite Cape Cod light, but it's a bit brighter and larger. Photographing dogs in Topanga Canyon is always such a real pleasure. Roofus, Laddie, Benny and I all took a nice little walk up a local trail which is where we created most of our Topanga Canyon dog portraits, using the great local texture and natural light. I met Roofus at an NKLA/Best Friends adoptathon a while back- Roofus (pictured above) is a young, beautiful Golden Retriever who was born with front legs that were not fully formed, and no eyes. Because he was born with these attributes, he has never known life any other way. For that reason, Roofus is a totally normal young Golden Retriever. He has prosthetics for his front legs, and even without them gets around wonderfully. He is being fostered with volunteers from the Golden Retriever Club Rescue of Los Angeles, and hopefully will find a loving forever home soon.

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Finding Shelter Volunteer Portraits Update + New Favorites

Finding Shelter: Animal Shelter Volunteer Portraits The Finding Shelter portrait series continues to be completely inspiring and challenging at the same time. Every time I walk into an animal shelter or arrive at some wonderfully generous animal rescue group's home base I am fully aware that the work that I am doing and the work that the people welcoming me are doing is so completely different. In a way, at least. I arrive with my camera and my seamless paper and some various pieces of equipment and my clipboard with model releases and my work pants and my work boots and I am ready for action. Photographing 10-15 complete strangers accompanied by 10-15 slightly nervous shelter animals is no small feat. It takes a level of concentration and lightness on my feet that feels like running a triathalon. The three tasks I must accomplish over and over again (I have about 5 minutes to create each portrait) are:

1) Connect with my subject- ask them engaging questions about their volunteer work, or about the dog they are sitting with. If I don't build their trust in the first 30 seconds of our interaction, the portrait will fall flat. I must be open and transparent and welcoming and full of respect, in order to expect the same thing back from my subjects. Many people told me that this project would be impossible because animal shelter volunteers are known for being better with animals than people. As a 'dog person' I can certainly understand that sentiment. But, I knew that if I approached Finding Shelter with true authenticity, making it known that I was an artist and a story teller, and was acting as a vehicle to lift up and share this movement's story, that the people-shy volunteers would respond positively. Which is what has been happening.

2) Focus my camera on two constanlty moving subjects. Though it looks like I have the volunteers just sit or stand and be still- that's not really what is happening. I let my subjects guide the sitting in the beginning- if they stand, I keep them standing. If they start petting the dog, I tell them to keep petting the dog. In order to keep these portraits powerful and real, and raw in a sense too, I need to stay out of the moment as much as possible. This is hard to do, especially when there are various people and animals wandering around behind me, naturally distracting my subjects. So I talk quietly to them, keep their attention focused slightly, but am also very aware of not inserting myself into the image being created. This is how a portrait should be done. It is much, much harder to do than it sounds. Think of all the millions of images we see every day- on Instagram or Facebook etc, from famous wedding photographers or pet photographers even- who do you see first when you look at those images? Probably not the actual subjects. The very first immediate impression or presence you sense when looking at most photographs or images today is the photographer who created it. They are placing themselves first, ahead of their subjects. For a lot of reasons I'm assuming, but also simply becuase it's just easier that way. Telling your subjects (the couple getting married, the dog and client posed at the park) exactly what to do and how to do it in order to create the image that the ARTIST wants is selfish. I am certainly guilty of doing that at times, when I need to reel my subects in a bit. But personally, I want to be invisible when I create my images. Epecially during the finding shelter volunteer portraits.

3) The final thing I must juggle is constantly being in control of my environment. That means making sure I am working in an area with the right kind of light (soft/open shade), and if that light changes (which it always does)- brekaing down my set up quickly and moving it. It also means making sure I know what's happening behind me at all times- though I want to keep these shoots as mellow and low-impact as possible for the animal shelters and rescue groups, they are always a bit hectic becasue I am pulling volunteers and animals away from their jobs for an hour. People mill about, dogs walk by on leash, chit chat happens. If I'm photographing outside (which happens most of the time) there could be passers by on the street, cars, trucks, etc. It's like directing a symphony but really being aware of the chaos and loving it, and bringing it into the final piece somehow. As frustrating as it can be when the light suddenly changes or a car honks it's horn, there is a liveliness, a sense of chaos and immediacy it adds to the portraits that I really enjoy. These are not sterile portraits in any way, even though they are shot against a white background. There is a realness that keeps it all very grounded and completely fulfilling.

Below are a few new favorite portraits from the past few shoots. Thank you to all the volunteers and staff and coordinators who have so genersouly been donating their time to help organize these shoots and get me to the shelters. Your work is keeping this project moving.

You can see more of the series here:

Finding Shelter: Animal Rescue Volunteer Portraits

Finding Shelter: Animal Rescue Group Portraits Finding Shelter: Animal Rescue Volunteer Portraits

Finding Shelter: Shelter Volunteer Portraits



How To Photograph Kids and Dogs Together

Family and Dog Photographer People often ask me if I have a hard job. I guess they have that old adage in mind 'Never photograph kids and dogs.' To be honest, I think this saying was made by a bunch of lazy photographers that just didn't have the patience or understanding needed to photograph kids and dogs. Because when done correctly, it can be an incredibly rewarding and easy process. When I am commissioned for a pet photography session in Los Angeles or San Francisco by a family that has kids AND dogs, my clients almost always come to me thinking that 'it simply can't be done.' Which is riduclous, but also is a great opportunity for me to prove them wrong and create beautful black and white dog portraits that blow them away. So, here is my advice on how to photograph kids and dogs for all my fellow pet photographers out there.

1) First, don't be intimidated by the parents' concern. You must be calm and confident when photographing dogs and kids simultaneously. And when the parents see that you are calm and in control of the situation, they will allow themselves to relax and that is how good, emotional, creative portraits are made.

2) Be patient. The only moments worth photographing are real moments, especially when working with kids of any age. Kids can see right through you, so do not tell them what to do, or where to sit, or what to wear, or when to smile. I simply follow the kids around and invite their dogs to spend time with them. Usually in their bedrooms where there are lots of toys or kids' favorite things, beds that dogs like to sleep on, and texture and light. A kid's bedroom is like a moment frozen in time. All the tiny details inside that space tell a story of a specific age and specific moment in their development. It all changes so fast that being able to show parents a beautiful image from within that space is so wonderfully powerful.

3) More likely than not, dogs come before kids. So be sure to be sensitive to that. Find time in your dog photography session to pull that parents aside and create some beautiful portraits of the parents with their original 'kids' - the dogs. It will be very appreciated, and allow them take stock of how lucky they are to have grown their family over the years.

4) Never say no to a suggestion. During this session, my client had a very surprising but amazingly creative idea to put the family and dogs in the car and create a portrait of them zooming by with their heads out the window. I stood at the end of the driveway and panned through them driving past the house a handful of times. This resulted in the family photograph at the top of this post, which I truly love.

Photography of dogs and kids

Photography of a Golden Retriever Family photography with dogs Golden Retriever Photographer