BriAnne Wills gained a mass social following with her images which captured the powerful bond between a girl and their cats. She has since published a book entitled Girls and Their Cats and we wanted to find out more about the project and its success.
Where did the idea for your ‘Girls and Their Cats’ series come from?
Originally my idea was to do a series of nudes. The first nude woman I was photographing had a cat who made himself a part of our shoot. I ended up taking most of the photos of her and her cat and in that moment I started thinking about how cool cat-owning women are and wondered why they got such a bad rap. After all, I am a cat lady myself and I have many cool friends who have cats. After that shoot, I changed direction completely and decided to focus on cat ladies in an effort to dismantle the crazy cat lady stereotype.
You originally started by uploading the images to a dedicated Instagram account; how did the project develop from this to a book?
My Instagram had amassed a large following thanks to sites like Bored Panda, HuffPost, and BuzzFeed sharing the series. One of those followers was the editorial assistant at Chronicle Books. I think she had been following for a while and finally decided to reach out in February 2018. She asked if I had ever considered turning GATC into a book. And because Chronicle made beautiful books and had such a dedicated cat library, it seemed like the perfect fit.
Outside of your Girls and Their Cats shots you’re also a fashion and beauty photographer. How did shooting a more personal project differ from these types of shoots? Did you come out of the process learning anything new?
Everything is very calculated in the fashion/beauty world. From what the models wear, to their hair and make-up, to their poses. GATC is a more easy-going, candid process. I do still help guide my subjects, but there is very little planning involved.
You shot the portraits in various different locations – what kit and techniques did you use and what challenges did you come across?
I kept my kit small. One hotshoe flash, camera body, and 50mm lens. There was very rarely any natural light, especially in NYC apartments, so I used a lot of bounce flash to create that bright look. And to get the cats to look at the camera, I used a noisy cat toy.
What about challenges with the cats?
Yes, cats really don’t take direction well. I found that many times I would frame the shot perfectly and then the cat would get up, walk away, and sit just outside of frame. Like they knew. So, when we were able to get everything and everyone lined up perfectly, it was that much more gratifying.
What was your aim in shooting each image and how did you know which shot was ‘the one’?
Cats are not easy to photograph so oftentimes it’s easy to see which photo is “the one” because the cat is perfectly posed. For each profile, I edited the images down to four or five of my favourites. If I had trouble narrowing down to one, I would ask my sister and husband to vote on their favourites. It’s always nice to have a second or third set of eyes. Sometimes an outside perspective can help you see things clearly.
Why do you think it’s important for photographers to take on personal projects like this?
When I started Girls and Their Cats, I wasn’t working as a photographer yet. I had just moved to NYC and didn’t know anyone. It was a great way for me to focus on something creative while also networking. Soon people started to see the photos and then they’d see that I also did fashion/beauty work, and then they’d hire me for jobs. I was getting my portfolio into the hands of those who otherwise wouldn’t have seen my work.
For photographers who would dream of publishing their own photo book, can you talk us through the process from idea to printed book? How much planning was involved?
I focused on the idea first. I thought a book would be great one day, but I wasn’t in a rush. I had photographed more than 200 cat-owning women by the time I was approached by a publisher and offered a book deal. Luckily, when you work with a publisher they handle everything book-related, like design, editing, and marketing. I just had to plan the photo shoots and travel.
Do you see this project progressing into a second book? Or have you got some other ideas in the pipeline?
I would love to do a second book. I never thought of myself as the person who had big ideas – especially ones that haven’t already been done – so I imagine I’ll stick with this one. I’d be happy to do a whole series of Girls and Their Cats books.
Girls and Their Cats by BriAnne Wills, with Elyse Moody, is published by Chronicle Books and is available to buy now, priced at £17.99.
Follow Girls and Their Cats on Instagram
All images © 2019 by BriAnne Wills