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Catvidfest Interview: David Perez, Saintly City Cat Photographer

cat gotta be a cat - bare elegance stretching
tacaria breaking for a stretch during her session

Tacaria breaking for a stretch. Photo: David Perez

I became familiar with the cat portraits of David Perez, when I requested images from the Saintly City Cat Club for the 2015 Internet Cat Video Festival. I honestly could not take my eyes off of them! I felt like David had a unique eye, and wanted to interview him for the Walker blog.

Hi David! Thank you for talking with me today! Can you tell me a bit about what you do?

My wife, Mary Patricia, who is also my cat wrangler, and I, photograph a number of cat shows during the year. We do two types of photography for the shows: formal and informal images.

For formal portraits we allow the cat to move on the posing stand and interact with the owner and my wife.  The cats actually run the photo shoot since we don’t try to force them into any particular pose.  We’re trying to capture the unique personality of the cat for the owner, so we let the cat be him- or herself.

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Quinn the Sphynx. Photo: David Perez

When we’re not doing formal portraits, I wander the show hall, talking to exhibitors and capturing interesting moments of people, cats, judging, and whatever catches my eye.

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Jan Rogers judging a Maine Coon. Photo: David Perez

My wife is the most important tool available to me.  Without her ability to establish a rapport with the cat, it would be almost impossible for me to get many of the shots we get. I usually tell the owners that she does all the actual work – I’m just the guy that hangs onto the camera and pushes the button.

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Tie the Sphynx Portrait. Photo: David Perez

Can you give us a bit of history of your work as a cat photographer? When did you start? What compelled you to photograph cats? 

In 2005, I started taking photographs for the St. Paul Winter Carnival. As part of the weekend, I visited the Saintly City Cat Show and was captivated by the cats and the people at the show. It was so much fun I made it a part of each year. A couple years after I stopped photographing the Winter Carnival I ran into Linda Baker (a member of the Saintly City Cat Club) and ended up attending the 2011 Saintly City Cat Show as the show photographer. Things expanded from there and we now photograph several cat shows in the Midwest.

I enjoy photographing cats because, like their owners, they’re all unique. Every cat that comes to us is different, as is every owner. That uniqueness makes it a constant challenge to get just the right shot, and great fun to photograph these amazing animals.

Every photo session is different. Different breeds of cats require different styles. Breeds like Cornish Rex or Sphynx are high energy while Maine Coons and Ragdolls are more relaxed. Even over the course of a day, a cat’s personality is likely to change. A cat that may be difficult to photograph first thing in the morning may be relaxed and easy to work with later in the day.

Who was the most memorable cat you photographed? Tell us about it!

Janis Benjamin enjoyed dressing her Tonkinese, Squigmont, in costumes and having us photograph him. He’s been a pharaoh, an elf, and several other characters over the years.

squigmont as pharoah

Squigmont as Pharaoh. Photo: David Perez

We photographed a beautiful, 7-month-old Maine Coon named Peaches last year. Peaches was selected as the cover of Cat Fancy for September, 2014. Earlier this year, we photographed Peaches again, with a poster of the Cat Fancy cover.

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Peaches with Cat Fancy cover. Photo: David Perez

We photographed a brood of 5, 2-month-old Birman kittens that were great fun to work with.

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Three Burmese Kittens. Photo: David Perez

And there’s Spirit, a 20-year-old, white household pet, who still competes in cat shows.

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Spirit with Award. Photo: David Perez

Can you talk a bit about your career? How often do you take photographs?

I’ve been a photographer for over 40 years, starting in the 1970s, and shooting a variety of events and subjects that interested me. When digital photography progressed to the point that the quality was good enough, I moved from film to digital and never looked back.

These days, when we’re not photographing cat shows, I frequently find birds, wildlife, flowers, and other events to photograph. I’ve photographed everything from air shows to rodeos, grizzly bears to butterflies, and roses in the garden to orchids in the northern bogs.

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Alice has had enough posing. Photo: David Perez

Any advice for aspiring cat photographers out there? How do you get the perfect shot?

To be successful as a photographer of any kind, I believe you need a true passion for your subject and the willingness to spend the time to learn the techniques and tools needed to create effective and compelling images. That’s why I’m not a wedding photographer – I like most cats better than most people!

If you’re going to capture the personality of a cat, you need patience, persistence, and a good sense of timing. Equipment, you can purchase, but I believe it requires a special kind of personality to enjoy the challenge of photographing cats, and a willingness to go beyond the everyday to get really special images.

The other thing I believe is critical is a great cat wrangler. More than the best equipment, having a person that has real affection for cats, who can gain their trust and cooperation, is immeasurably important. I’m fortunate that my wife has the ability to turn the most skittish, uncooperative cats into purring supermodels, strutting on the posing stand, playing with toys, and giving me the opportunity to capture images that show their personality.

squigmont as elf

Squigmont as elf. Photo: David Perez

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