Paw-trait master: The archive of cat photographer Walter Chandoha

A new book published by Taschen gives readers a glimpse into Walter Chandoha’s archive of 90,000 cat images taken over his 70-year career

‘What is so good about cats?’ I hear you ask. If the photographs of Walter Chandoha are anything to go by you’ll see them for the majestic, expressive and poised creatures that they are.

Long before the days of LOLcats and #catsofintstagram, Chandoha’s photographs captured the imagination of cat fans everywhere. Appearing on everything from adverts to greetings cards, puzzles to pet-food packaging, his photography not only demonstrated his technical skill at animal portraiture but also his genuine affection for felines.

Chandoha photographing a feline subject at his home studio in Long Island (1955). Images © 2019 Walter Chandoha, courtesy of Taschen

Thanks to Taschen’s new book, Walter Chandoha. Cats. Photographs 1942-2018, you can now flick through nearly 300 pages of the photographer’s genre-defining archive and get a sense of the man who Taschen has described as the ‘Richard Avedon of cat photography’.

Chandoha’s trademark style elevated feline portraiture to an art form. (He often illuminated in glamorous lighting to highlight the fluffy tendrils of fur.) But he was equally at ease capturing his subjects out on the field (sometimes literally), creating charming images that were full of warmth. The book’s glossy pages include colour studio and environmental portraits, black-and-white street photography, shots from vintage cat shows and tender photographs of his children with various feline friends.

One of Chandoha’s most famous works, aptly titled The Mob (1961)

Chandoha took around 90,000 images of cats, and his photography became an inspiration to generations of artists that followed him. As the book explains, his career started on a New Yorkwinter’s night in 1949 when Chandoha, a young marketing student and budding photographer, spotted a stray kitten in the snow. He bundled it into his coat and brought it home, and it wasn’t long before Chandoha started taking photographs of his new fluffy pal (who he later named Loco). He was so enamoured with the results, he began photographing kittens from a local shelter, and spent the next 70 years building his cat-themed portfolio.

Onlookers at Fabulous Felines pet store in New York (1961)

In his lifetime, the photographer published several books including Walter Chandoha’s Book of Kittens and Cats (1963) and the seminal text, How to Shoot and Sell Animal Photos (1986). He was initially involved in the making of Taschen’s new book, but passed away in January this year aged 98. Editors Reuel Golden and Susan Michals continued the project in his honour, however, and it’s become a fitting tribute to a photographer who wasn’t just great at his job, but incredibly passionate about his subject.

Walter Chandoha. Cats. Photographs 1942-2018 is published by Taschen and costs £40; taschen.com

DESIGNER

Worthing, West Sussex

INDUSTRIAL DESIGNER

Frome, Somerset

SENIOR DESIGNER

Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire