Friday, December 16, 2011

Classic cats

Frank Eugene, France, 1916
I've been perusing Classic Cats by Great Photographers, and I can attest that it's definitely not your run-of-the-mill, thrown-together compendium designed to snare gullible feline fanciers. Its virtues lean more toward the aesthetic than the cutesy. After an introduction tracing the history of the species and its role in various cultures, the author pursues themes such as Daily Life, Cats on the Move, and VIP Cats, illustrating them with artful images by photographers past and present, male and female, from New York to Paris to China. Each photo is intelligently annotated, with information about the photographer and his or her milieu.
Lady Aberconway's cat, Bodnant, by Cecil Beaton,1950
Ylla, 1953
Many of the photographers were new to me, especially the women. Take Camilla Koffler, who went by "Ylla." Sponsored by the Museum of Modern Art, she immigrated in 1941 to the US, where her subjects included cats barreling through space. Later she moved on to big cats, with Animals in Africa (1953) and Animals in India (1958), published posthumously.
Dance photographer Martha Swope captured choreographer George Balanchine with Mourka (grand jeté?), while Murray Garrett took a number of sweet photos of Marlon Brando with his white cat. Sanford Roth snapped a group of widely divergent celebrities alongside his own cat, Louis XIV, including James Dean and Colette (who immortalized many of her own cats in prose).
Do you have any printworthy cat photos you'd like to share? E-mail them to and I'll put them up. (Let me know that you've done so in the comments so I know to check.)


  1. The Eugene photograph from 1916 has an almost humanly expressive quality, while the Sanford Roth pictures look like mine when the flash fails. No cats, I trust, were harmed in the shooting of those mid-air photos.

  2. I know, it seemed to me also to be an example of what not to do re lighting, but maybe it was exempted because Colette is so famous or someone thought it was moody.

  3. I love those pictures of Brando and Dean playing with their cats! that baby snuggled on Marlon Brando's shoulder is too precious!!