Today's guest is world-renowned photographer and shelter-dog advocate Sophie Gamand, who joins me to talk about how to make a real difference in the world with your photography.
Sophie's Pit Bull Flower Power project started as a passion project but quickly exploded in the media, becoming the catalyst for a full time career in photography.
For Sophie, it's shelter dogs. Your passion may be similar, or completely different. But what Sophie shares in our conversation today will inspire you to think about how you can attach more meaning to your photography, to tell stories that make a difference, and to create images that can make a real-world difference to whatever cause you set your mind and heart to.
SophieGamand.com – Find out more about all of Sophies projects, books, prints, blog, full portfolio, and much more on her main website.
Sophie Gamand on Patreon – Get exclusive content from Sophie and support her many pro-bono projects from as little as $1.50 per month
Luminosity Masking Panel for Photoshop – Designed and developed by Steve Arnold to make luminosity masking quicker, easier, and more effective. Podcast listeners receive a 45% discount!
- Sophies journey from passion project to a full time photography career and shelter dog advocate
- How curiosity led to the passion project that changed Sophies life
- Why do pit bulls have a bad image
- How to use photography to tell a different story and change peoples perspectives
- What breed specific bans are really about (and it's not about the dogs)
- Why Pit Bull Flower Power project is more about humanity than it is about dogs
- The story-telling tools that you as a creative have, and most other people don't
- What is your real job as a creative?
- How to stand out by taking the least-walked path
- How photography helps creates community connections
- How to leverage your fears
- The ingredient to put into your photography to make it easier for journalists and the media to talk about
Pit Bull Flower Power
Click the book above to purchase your copy, or view more images on Sophies website here
Pit Bull Flower Power on Instagram
This episode is sponsored by your host, Steve Arnold. Learn Photoshop with Steve via his online courses at Photo Mastery Club
Luminosity Masking Panel for Photoshop – Designed and developed by Steve Arnold to make luminosity masking quicker, easier, and more effective. Podcast listeners receive a 45% discount!
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Transcript – Click To Reveal
This transcript was generated automatically, so may (actually – definitely will) contain the odd mistake or two. Therefore it's probably best to be used as a reference after listening to the episode, should you want to refer to something you heard but can't remember exactly when it was said 🙂
Sophie Gamand, welcome to the podcast. How you doing?
Sophie Gamand 2:07
Good. How are you, Steve?
Steve Arnold 2:09
I'm great. Thanks. Yeah. And I just wanted to thank you from the start for coming on and sharing your knowledge and experience with all of the listeners.
Sophie Gamand 2:19
Right? I'm very excited about this. It's rare that I do, you know, interviews for the photography scene, usually it's the dog or the rescue scene. So this is like, a whole new world.
Steve Arnold 2:30
It's, it's great. So yeah, so obviously, you, you came on to the radar in my household through your pet photography and your flowerpower project mainly. And so for for those listeners out there who perhaps haven't seen your images, and what that was all about, maybe if you could just give us a short sort of introduction, and then we can dive in a bit deeper right afterwards.
Sophie Gamand 2:58
Yeah, absolutely. So I'm a photographer, I would qualify myself as a fine art photographer more than a pet photographer, because I don't work with clients. So I don't get hired to take photos of dogs. I basically create art projects and projects around dogs. And I first got known for a series called wet dog and that was basically a series of portraits of soggy wet dogs miserable during their bath. And right after that, I created a project called Pitbull flowerpower which I'm most known for, and that's a series of shelter pitbulls wearing flower crowns. And basically these are all adoptable dogs that I went to shelters to photograph and have them get adopted while trying to rebrand pitbulls in doing so, you know, with a flower crowns and all that. So that project really kicked my career in so many new direction and since I started this project six years ago, I've been mostly working with shelter dogs.
Steve Arnold 3:58
You've said before, I believe that He didn't start out with the goal of necessarily becoming an advocate for shelter dogs that seems to have grown a bit organically. So what was that journey? Like?
Sophie Gamand 4:09
Yeah, I guess, you know, I didn't study to become a photographer or anything and photography was something I love doing. But I never really envisioned the courier and then let alone with dogs and let alone with shelter dogs. So my, my journey really happened a little bit by accident or like, and, and I've been able to build an entire career around my work as an dog advocate and a shelter dog advocate and all the work that I do with rescues. This is my full time job. Basically, I'm a volunteer, shelter dog photographer, and I still managed to run a business and make a living with that. So it's like a weird Yeah, weird path.
Steve Arnold 4:52
So what was your process for finding these dogs who were locating a shelter that had a specific type of Don't that you wanted to photograph?
Sophie Gamand 5:01
Yeah, I mean, not exactly. At first, I started working with rescues, so they don't have a physical shelter. It's more groups, you know, that are relying on people temporary fostering a dog for them. So I would have to move a lot. And I did spend a couple of years doing a lot of work with a rescue in Puerto Rico. So I would fly to the island and help rescue dogs there and photograph them on on in the streets. So my work was mostly about documenting the life of stray dogs and the rescue process. And after two years of that I was really burned out by the whole scene and a lot of the dogs that I would photograph would not make it or would not be rescued. And it felt like my work was not making a difference really. So then I started working with shelters that have a facility so I could just go in set up a photo studio for the day or the afternoon, and then photograph 3040 dogs in one day and then the shelter would You just have photos to promote to the dogs for adoption. And I felt like that was a more efficient way to make a direct difference in the life of these dogs. And then it just grew from there. Sure. So
Steve Arnold 6:12
obviously, the shelters use those photos for their own promotion of you know, getting those those dogs rescued. And, yeah, that kind of, you're using it on your own social media as well. And that kind of took off to become quite a big thing for yourself. And yeah, that kind of grew your, your profile as well. And you became known as this, you know, this advocate for this big scary Pitbull breeds, you know?
Sophie Gamand 6:37
Yes, well, that's because I was working in shelters, and in the US, they have I mean, the majority are most of these dogs are pitbulls, and each time I would go to the shelters. They were just so many of them. And I was a little afraid of these dogs. And so creating people flowerpower was a way for me to overcome my fear of these dogs so I could do a better job in promoting them. And also to try and understand them because I was so used to that negative image we have of them in the media. I just wanted to get to know them. And I figured maybe photography can change the way we perceive these dogs, and hopefully save lives in, you know, at the same time. So my work with people's happened organically and from what I would witness at the shelter between the environment, the fact that there were so many of them there, and my feelings of like, Oh, I don't know about these dogs, you know. So I think, as a photographer, my curiosity really led me to a place where I was able to create a project that then changed my life. And I think that curiosity is super important.
Steve Arnold 7:42
Where do you think that kind of fear of pitfalls comes from? Because in my experience, I mean, since I mean, I was born in this sort of late 70s. And over my lifetime, it's kind of the it's kind of evolved as you know, one phase there's it was Dobermans, and then it was German Shepherd swish Don't be scared of and sort of since maybe the mid 90s. It kind of it's settled on pitbulls as being the breed to be scared of, you know, what do you think's responsible for that?
Sophie Gamand 8:10
I mean, I don't think we have that much time. It's a very complicated and multi layer the issue. And you're right, the first breed ban was actually against the Spitz, which was the ancestor of the Pomeranian. So we're talking about a cute fluffy little dog that people started believing was carrying rabies. And so the first breed ban known is actually I think, 1800 and 50 ish, something like that, I think in New Jersey, and the band spits. What's interesting about that story is that the one of the reasons why these dogs were actually banned was because they were very popular with independent women who wanted the right to vote and to have jobs and not to have kids and get married and women that basically would pull all their loves into their little doggie the They would carry with them everywhere. And so it was very threatening to society back then. And when you read articles from the band back then they would basically say Are these women and their dog is that they'd rather have a dog than kids. And so the ban was actually really intertwined with a lot of political and social issues. And similar things happen with the peoples. So the Pitbull, you know, so many layers to this, it's a dog that has been super popular, forever used to be extremely popular with families and farms and workers from all classes, all backgrounds, and then somehow in the 80s 90s, it got really associated with minorities and impoverished neighborhoods and the drug epidemic, you know, crack houses and violence, gun violence, and then it became kind of a symbol of that environment which politicize the people. So It's a it's a dog so that is very powerful so placed in the wrong hands of course it's going to have the potential of doing more damage than a small you know, dog. So there's so many reasons it was kind of the perfect storm that came together to create this honestly what I call the mythological creature because it's kind of the new dragon you know, it's, it's when when people hear Pitbull, a lot of the time they have no idea how Pitbull looks like because Pitbull is not really a breed it's a group of dogs so it's a it's more like a look or vibe. So she asked people like describe a pitbull they will tell you like muscles and has like a big smile and a big blocky head but nobody can really agree on the definition. And yet we design laws. We designed a lot of things around the concept of the people. So the media has just been loving the drama around the pitfall It started with the dog fighting You know, in the 80s, and it just yeah, never left. It's actually the longest disagreement between humans and dogs. The Pitbull. It's been decades like you said, you know?
So yeah, super interesting.
Steve Arnold 11:16
It didn't even really come onto my radar until we rescued rescued our dog about five years ago, is the first dog that we've had me and my partner, Sonia. And yeah, we went to the shelter and we just saw this cute six month old puppy and he was, you know, bouncing around playful little thing. Cute is anything. We took him home. And on the papers, it just happened to say that he was an American Staffordshire Terrier cross with a boxer. And, you know, we didn't think anything of it. And then, because I'm here in Australia, and my family is back home in England, we migrated about 12 years ago. But you're in the back of your mind. You're thinking maybe one day we'll go back and then so I think it will What about Archer? Our dog? You know? Could we even take him? And? Yeah, yeah, so we started looking into what we're allowed to do and what we can't do. And, you know, so, you know, we've we've at least promised ourselves. We're here in Australia as long as arches still around because,
Sophie Gamand 12:14
right, the UK has a ban on pitbulls, and it's a real issue. You know, there's a lot of places that have bans on them. Germany also will ban the importation of pitbulls. And in the UK. similarly to what we see in the US, those bands are based on visual identification. So they basically look at your dog and the same people. Yeah, probably. And that could lead to actually dog being euthanized. And so there is, you know, I work with an organization that that is fighting against that law in the UK, and that leads to these crazy situations where, you know, part of a litter will be euthanized, but not the other part because they're like, these ones don't really look like pitbulls. And so they literally from the same gene pool, the same parents, but they will be treated differently. So yeah Stay in Australia. In Australia, they were trying to pass a ban recently, like, there were rumors and people got a little nervous. But I know you guys I mean, over there love the stuffies.
Steve Arnold 13:11
Yeah, well, that's that's what I find so strange is because it's the most loved breed over here. Right. And, you know, as a result, the shelters, that's the highest proportion of dogs that you see in a shelter, and you know, we can have them here. But if we were, if we wanted to go on overseas for a year and take the dog, we couldn't bring him back. So we're allowed to have him, take him out and bring him back. Yeah,
Sophie Gamand 13:36
that's what a lot of countries will do basically, really ban the incoming, you know, so you can be grandfathered in if if you already have your dog and you live there, but yeah, so I some of my models from the flowerpower series, were adopted by amazing loving families and they were so in love and everything was great until the family had to move, you know, to a different country or different region and then they're not allowed to bring their dog And then they have to leave the dog behind. And that is the madness that we've the system that we've created around pit bulls, which is all based on physical appearance. It's not like we take each dog individually and assess them and really decide, okay, is this dogs dangerous? And how dangerous? Is it dangerous? Only two cats, only two dogs? Is it dangerous to people because these are not the same things. A dog who is aggressive with other dogs, for example, might not be aggressive or dangerous to people. So there's so many layers to this issue and what what shocks me the most is how everything is based on the visual. And that's why my project people thought power was I think so successful and so different is that really taking that visual and shaking it and just presenting a completely different view and an image of the people and then ask yourself, like, how how does that portrait make you feel? What do you think about this dog, but he's smiling and has flowers on his head and you know, and this Paired with the rescue stories because all of my models come from different backgrounds, some come from dogfighting operations. You know, there were grand champion dog fighters, and I crowned them with flowers. And they get retrained, assessed, and if they're, you know, available for adoption, sometimes they get lucky and they get adopted. And sometimes they even have dog friends later in life. Every dog is different, regardless of their past, regardless of how they were raised. Every dog is a unique individual. And that's really what a what my series is also about. So every dog has a unique crown. It's a different photo for each dog. And yeah, I want to celebrate how unique these dogs are.
Steve Arnold 15:41
Yeah, no, it's Yeah, it's really beautiful that you've managed to take that kind of visual aspect that has been used to persecute the whole the whole breed and then just turn it on its head like that. And yeah, I just have to say your Instagram feed is just absolutely, you know, just wonderful. everybody listening to just go and check it out immediately. So, yeah, how like for you personally? How has this whole journey and this this sort of mission of yours? How has it affected your photography? I mean, I know you said that this now actually become like your full time. Your full time gig now. Yeah. What kind of other ways is it affected your photography?
Sophie Gamand 16:26
I would say, you know, it's been really a joy to be able to do the photography that I love to be my own master of my own ship, basically really decide what I photograph and how and then release that to the world and then be able to sell prints or merchandise or whatever, you know, commercial aspects that can develop around my work and make it work that way. It's been like I feel we live in a very exciting time for photographers and artists. We're not bound by galleries anymore. We can really do whatever we want, we can reach our audience directly. And I always encourage everybody to really explore those avenues. If you're fine art photographers, there's no reason why you shouldn't be selling merchandise prints, like think outside the box, even t shirts. You know, the first. The first year when my first flowerpower images came out, people were emailing me like, Oh my god, I love those. Do you sell calendars? And I was like, No, I mean, who uses calendars anymore? Of course not. And then I kept getting the messages. I'm like, wait, should I send in calendars? And then I figured, okay, this goes against my instinct, because, you know, I was more like, into the fine art world. And I figured, you know what, I'm just gonna embrace it. No shame in my game. And so I made a calendar and it's, it's sold really, really well. And I've been doing a calendar every year now for six years. And it's a nice little stream of revenue. So So yeah, that was I feel like I'm not answering your question directly. But I think I really want to encourage photographers to think outside the box. Nowadays, being propelled into the role of an advocate, through your photography can be super challenging. When the first images of the pimples came out, I was still unsure how I felt about these dogs. And they went viral immediately, like, within a matter of a few days and weeks, I was everywhere and celebrities were, you know, sharing them and like, it spread like wildfire. And people started approaching you for interviews, and everybody has the same question. I had the same question. So are these dogs dangerous? And I'm like, I have no idea, dude. I just took photos. And immediately I was propelled into that role of a champion or an advocate. And I wasn't really ready or prepared. And so I did a lot of research and I just stayed curious and open minded. And over the years, of course, now I've been doing this for six years. I photographed 450 pupils in flower crowns. So I've been around the country and in other countries as well. So I've had a lot of experience. And now I'm prepared to answer these questions. But back then it was challenging. But I think there's nothing better than creating a body of work that also has a message or cause attached to it. For me, that's the recipe for success. And for, you know, work that you want to share and talk about, and that is exciting.
Steve Arnold 19:25
I feel like with something that has got the potential to mean so much to so many people, I would assume that there's some people on the other side. Oh, yeah, yeah, who kind of disagree? Like what kind of pushback if you have.
Sophie Gamand 19:41
So I mean, there are there's a big group of people that you know, don't think people should be around. There's the rational ones that just don't know. They don't know people so just know that they're afraid. And that was me, frankly, before that. Before I started this project. I was always like, if you have to choose between a cute little Labradoodle or whatever and scary people why would you want to have a pitbull? So I was part of that group of people that was kind of on the fence Really? Those people if they open minded I think work like mind can open the the idea to like, how about the individual like, is this dog scary? Has this dog done anything You know? And then you realize all of a sudden that you fear is completely unfunded? Because Oh yeah, my neighbor has a pitbull and he's the most loving, cutest little thing. And beside that group of rational people, there is also a group smaller of pure haters, and those tried to get me in trouble for sure. You know, they created a fake Yelp page, just sort of slander me slander my business, you know, and Yelp refused to take it down, by the way, because Yelp is the mafia of the internet. And everybody should stay away from them. But yeah, so it was like this fake page. I would get a lot of hate. They would send me photos of Children who had been disfigured by dogs and I would get hateful emails at once I had an exhibit in the gallery received a letter, you know? So yeah, I mean, I definitely I was told that I had blood on blood on my hands, you know that I should be held responsible next time a pit bull kills someone. And like all these things were really difficult to deal with. Yeah.
Steve Arnold 21:24
How do you sort of reconcile that? Yeah. How do you get through,
Sophie Gamand 21:28
it was really hard back then. And then even in the course of the few years, I've been doing this project every once in a while, like, it gets to me a little bit. And then I sit and I'm like, Wait, am I doing something wrong here? Am I are they are they right? Am I encouraging the wrong kind of thing here? Are people dangerous? You know, I keep going back to that because the fear we have of these dogs is so deeply rooted, like we've been taught for decades that these are monsters that eat your babies at night and, and there's so many lies that are being spread about these dogs, like they have these locking Jaws, for example, meaning they can't release. And that's stupid. Like, that's not even true. So it was like, sometimes it's definitely pushed me in a corner of like, Ah, what am I doing and my life would be so much easier if I didn't have to deal with this, honestly, all the hate. But over the years, I've also realized that it's a very small group of people. And the most vocal of them are a small group of fanatics that run a website that everybody knows the guy who created it is an absolute, he's a liar. He is a fraud, like he claims to have all these degrees and somebody actually looked into it and was like, then never heard of him. So he's, it's just like a small group of fanatics basically, that decided to have this crusade against people's and you know, I understand why Forgive me wrong. Like, I see the photos. I see the news sometimes and I understand that it's so scary to have dogs that can do so much damage to people. But I also read sometimes police reports or like whatever the facts I can find about the cases. And the majority of these cases are those that were neglected and the views that are chained in the backyard the entire lives and they're not fed and then the kids come in and tries to please with the dog and then gets bitten. Like, there's always this horrible set of circumstances and in most of the cases, the neighborhood knew the dog was dangerous, but nobody does anything. You know, they call the cops the cops say well, we can't do anything you know that like nobody really takes responsibility and say what how do we handle this dangerous dog? I'm not you know, I so I understand people that are afraid and that want to find solutions. I just feel like so far we really have gone about this the wrong way. And banning dogs for example, based on their so called breed is a mistake and it doesn't work.
Steve Arnold 23:55
Your work has obviously impacted the the rescue community You know, it's affected so many dogs directly. One of the things that I mentioned to you when I was first getting in contact was that your your work has been partly responsible for my partner Sonia. Over the past few years, she's probably photographed maybe 200 rescue dogs, mostly strangely, Husky breeds quite popular here in Australia. And so she's actually
Sophie Gamand 24:29
why. Why would they be rescued to not belong in Australia stop
Steve Arnold 24:34
getting off. So. Yeah, so Sonia, kind of, yeah, a few years ago, she became friends with a person who runs a husky rescue. Oh, that's awesome. Beautiful. Yeah.
Sophie Gamand 24:48
So much fun. Ah,
Steve Arnold 24:50
was there a point for you that you realized that what you were doing was actually having this kind of second level influence on people and being able to benefit, like this whole indirect group of dogs?
Sophie Gamand 25:04
Well, right. It's weird because you know, when you're doing the work, you just focused on your work. And it's like doing photoshoots retouching posting, like, and I have I have those, you know, blinders on basically, and so focused on my task, and then I wouldn't get a lot of feedback. It's not like the shutters would tell me, hey, that person came to a dog, this dog and told us it was because of your photo, like, I didn't get that kind of feedback. So for years, I felt like really this blind kind of work that I wasn't even sure was making a difference. Until flowerpower hit I guess that really taught me that it could make a difference, because then adopters would reach out to me, people would message me and I started getting hundreds of messages every week from people from all over the world, telling me I inspired them to volunteer at the shelter or take photos to adopt to rescue a dog to use the art, you know, for a cause that was dear to them. And I realized that was not just about pixels and photography and me, it was so much bigger, and how even by being your true self and really focusing on a project that really means something to you at a deeper level, you create this ripple effect that affects people all around the world nowadays with social media to do things that they never imagined or never thought they could do. But then they see you like, and they're like, oh, if she does it, maybe I could do and, and it's kind of the one of the most amazing part of having a project like this,
Steve Arnold 26:33
in terms of, you know, turning this what started off as like a passion project into into a career. Like if somebody is thinking of taking up a similar path, you know, how might somebody even get started?
Sophie Gamand 26:47
You know, for me, it was it was kind of when I moved to New York, 10 years ago, I had a camera and that was about it. And I was a little shy and I didn't know how to interact with people. So I started photographing dogs a little bit by accident. But I had always loved taking photos of animals from that point saying, you know, I love taking photos of dogs to having a career that jumps seemed absolutely impossible. And so the first thing I did was getting the skills that I needed. So in that case, for example, how to light studio how to create a studio setup and a studio lighting. So I took a class on that, and I armed myself with more skills, and I didn't have back then a lot of people to look up to, you know, I knew the work of Tim flash, which I loved, absolutely loved. And of course, William wegman, who photographs his weimaraner since the 70s I think so. These are my two main reference and Jill rimberg to with our series on monkeys and the bears and the way she photographs those crying babies. So these three photographers were huge inspiration in the sense that I was like the aesthetic or the commitment To the subject matter, you know, really inspired me. So I was trying to emanate their light, their composition and I really honed my skill and working with shutter dogs was amazing because I was really thrown into the mix, I would bring a backdrop and one light and what can I do now and the dog would be afraid or not want to sit or covered in shit or like whatever was going on. And I never knew what kind of dogs was going to come on set. It's like I could pick and choose my models and I never knew how they were going to react and I had to adapt to each model and each situation very quickly. And so that baptism by fire was amazing because I learned so much so quickly. And you know, my first couple of shoots were hideous, but already at the second or third shelter shoot I had already kind of established you know, the Sophie gamma look that you can see on my Instagram.
And of course I only work with one night so I'm limited when I work at the shelter. It's not like I can create this amazing composition and you know, it has Pretty basic, so to be manageable. But so yeah, getting the skills that you need, and to be able to make that jump towards a career you want. Even with that, you know, when I shot wet dog, I looked at them and I was like, oh, they're cute. I love this photos, but who's gonna want this? Like, how do you make a career of dog photos? And I had no examples around me of people who made a career with dogs, photos. So I had no road map. I didn't study photography, like I had no idea how to do this. And somebody recommended me like to submit them to a blog and or like one of those websites. And I was like, I don't know. I mean, what are the chances somebody is going to want to share my work? And so I researched and there was a couple of blogs that I loved. And I felt really connected with the kind of images they would pose. And I thought, you know, this could be a good match, and I emailed them both, and within an hour, they were like, Oh my God, we love this we're posting and that snowballed everything for me because then the photos got Picked and picked and picked. And then a few months later, because people love the photos online, I figured maybe I should submit to a competition. And I submitted to the Sony world photography award, which was, in my opinion, the best competition in the world. I loved their selection every year, I was a big fan. And I and I want the portrait category with my work, which was a huge surprise. And so taking those steps of like, identifying the work that was speaking to people where they were connecting, and then leveraging that by taking a chance on submitting to a couple of places that I felt could be a good fit, like not just email, you know, 100 different publication, but just really curate and make it personal. That really helped me connect to the people that really loved my work. winning the award was definitely a big push as well, but again, it was like about taking a chance. And then honestly the first couple of years I said yes to almost anything People ask me, so if they wanted, you know, to discuss a licensing deal or whatever it was, I figured, you know, for a while I'm just gonna go with everything and and figure it out. It was super stressful and I had to make decisions every day. And there's a lot of things I said no to because it felt wrong. You know, mostly like just ride that wave and take a chance on things and learn. So I learned a lot those first few years, I still learn but mostly about like, yeah, being open minded about things like the calendar story I said earlier, hey, if that's what people want, why not? I know that there's still an idea especially in fine art photography that your work has to be presented a certain way and you know, it has this certain standards. I tried that. I tried to work with like a prestigious gallery, and they screwed me over, they stole all my prints and the money with it. I just and I hear stories like this all the time from a lot of different artists. So For me, what really worked was having fun with it. So now sometimes if I feel like creating an enamel pin, for example, based on my work, then I go for it. And I have fun with it. And I think Yeah, thinking outside the box is the way to go.
Steve Arnold 32:16
And yeah, by the sounds of it just jumping in feet first and yes, learning by doing and all of that good. Yeah.
Sophie Gamand 32:23
You know, I always tell people, if you're afraid of something, that's where your work should go. And for me when I moved to New York, it was taking photos of strangers so I sign up for a street photography course. You know, and that forced me like the first assignment was Hey, go to your neighborhood and photograph a stranger and tell their story in five friends. And I was like, holy shit, I know I can. I just arrived to the country. My English is not great. And that forced me to like gear like push my lens towards dogs basically, because it was like, I'm so afraid. This feels a little safer and people's same thing I was so terrified of I mean, the first time I had to put a flower crown on a pinball, hello. This is not gonna go well. So I feel like our fear is an instinct. And it's a drive. It's, it's some something in you that tells you, oh, I don't know if I'm ready for this adventure. And you should really listen to that and leverage that fear for sure.
Steve Arnold 33:24
In terms specifically, of the, you know, the flower crown that you create, for each dog, did you go for that? Because it was so the complete opposite of the image, the image of rivals have and you know, where did you get that specific idea from?
Sophie Gamand 33:44
So it's exactly that I was basically trying to think, Okay, what could be the absolute opposite of the image we're used to with pimples? And for months, you know, I just like sat with the idea like, how, what would it be and then one night I was laying in bed, and I really want to photograph pitbulls in a way that I felt hadn't been done before. It's always been my my motto, you know, with my work, I don't want to be just an other person doing the same thing. I've always liked walking my own path. I hate elbowing my way into places I just want to like, I just want to earn the least walked path. So in any case, I was laying in bed and I had What could it be? What could it be? And then I realized, you know, maybe what are the things that we're used to we used to change and tattoos and like prawn collars and leather and it's very mescaline and cropped ears and they're still very, you know, toxic masculinity really. So what could be the exact opposite of this? And I started thinking, pink, girly, you know, and I guess it was right before the summer it was like spring summer, and I had seen like flower crowns, I think online like in the shop or something that could seem like it was probably around the festivals like Coachella and so I had I remember seeing flower crowns. And I was like, wow, five rounds, maybe. But I had no idea how to make a crown. I have no idea to make a crown for a dog. And I had no idea how I was going to stay on. And I just went with it. And it turned out that it worked out, but by some kind of magical trick, but yeah, I didn't know.
Steve Arnold 35:21
So that's obviously, you know, creating that kind of juxtaposition. And, you know, the way the way that you photograph the the dogs and there's the big beautiful eyes, and they're just this looks so cute. And, you know, it sounds like there's a lesson in there for anyone thinking of picking up whatever course or whatever the cause. Yeah, they might want to start working for and and yeah, like you said at the start to think outside the box and thinking in opposites, you know, trying to change our perceptions.
Sophie Gamand 35:54
Yeah, and I so absolutely. I think as a creative you know, our job is to look at the world. And we have a unique perspective. And to translate that into your images, so that you can invite other people and give them the tools to see things in a different light. Because as a photographer, you are some kind of visionary, you know, you really see the world in a very unique way. And think about, most people don't have that skill. Most people don't know how to frame an image don't like don't have the same relationship with visuals, but are very receptive to it. And it's such a great power to be able to connect the viewer to a code or a message through an image that you've, you know, materialized. And so I think that's definitely a power that we need to use as much as we can. The other thing too, that I want to add about having a cause is that the great thing about having a cause is there's a community that comes with and my work you know, was able to be more successful and to really grant me this career because it was built On the pit bull community and the dog rescue community, and they saw me as somebody who was on their side and that and they wanted to elevate my work too. So once you find a cause there's a community attached to it, you have to work with that community because you help them. They're already doing the work. And it's, there's no point in you creating a whole new thing. Just add your little wagon to their train and help support their effort. And in return, they can help you leverage your work and reach a bigger audience and make a bigger difference. So absolutely. So
Steve Arnold 37:36
yeah, you've been doing this for a while now. What's next?
Sophie Gamand 37:40
Oh, I've been, you know, I've been a little burnout. So in 2018, I decided to make the book the pinball flower paradox book and I did a big coffee table work. And nobody wanted to publish it. Even though that series was insanely popular on social media. And in a way it was fine because I really wanted to do it. Big Book and most publishers won't really do that. So I decided to do a Kickstarter campaign and I go down that that rabbit hole. And it was super scary. And it was a lot of work, and a lot of anxiety and a lot Oh my gosh. So I ended up self publishing the book with a successful Kickstarter campaign. That went extremely well. And I was so grateful for that. And then after the book came out, when the book came out, actually, I design a big exhibit to go with it. And so I spent nine months basically working on the book, writing about 4050 stories to go in the book. So interviewing adopters, and like, just writing all these stories and, and preparing for my exhibit, which was a really, really big undertaking. And then when everything was said and done, I call the labs like it took me almost two years. I mean, I'm almost thankful for the pandemic. I mean, obviously not because it's horrible, but because I'm not ready to go back to work two years later, a year and a half later, and I'm still exhausted. So I took a little bit of a break, and I took it easy. And also because I'm not ready to let go of flowerpower. I love this project so much. But I also sense that I'm being pushed out a little bit like, it's time to move on girl. So what I can say is that I am, I have a lot of ideas, and there's already a few projects I started working on. But it's very hard when you have two very commercial successful projects in a row. And then the project you want to do after that is like this intimate, weird, fine art project that you know is not going to be commercial and people are not going to connect to it the same way. But it's important to you, like how do you give yourself permission to go there, and to think about all people are gonna think I lost it, you know that I was a one trick pony. It's hard to give yourself the permission. So I've been navigating that a little bit and trying to come to terms with that. And also going viral is exhausting, to be honest. So I really needed a break. But there's so many stories around dogs that I want to keep telling rescue dogs, but all kinds of dogs. And also, I definitely, definitely want to do projects with dogs and people. So I haven't photographed humans in so long. I don't know if I can do it. But I'm very intrigued in in trying again, and I used to love taking portraits of people. So it'd be nice to go back to that a little bit. But yeah, expect way more dogs from me because I think this is just my life purpose. I can't imagine. For me, it's not about the dogs. It's really about humanity. So I want to create projects that you look at a photo of a dog, but it makes you question like, why do I hate pitbulls? Why do we treat people that way? Why do we breed dogs? Why like all these questions, why do we abandon animals? Why do we need to have shelters like, all these questions really speak about our humanity and that's what I'm really fascinated about. The dog is almost just kind of a mirror or window into that world.
Steve Arnold 41:00
Thank you so much. This has been a real awesome chat and I've loved being with you. For listeners who want to start following you and seeing your amazing images, where can they go?
Sophie Gamand 41:11
Yeah website. And I guess we'll put the link but it's everything is my name Sophie gamma. And so my websites over gamma calm. Instagram is where I am the most active my feet. I also have a Facebook page, which is pretty active. And then I also have a Patreon in case anybody feels like supporting my work. It's been a lifesaver, especially this year, when you know income has been an all time low. Having a Patreon page is such a gift. So if anybody wants to join that, that's super appreciated. But otherwise, yeah, Instagram and my website is probably the two main places.
Steve Arnold 41:49
Awesome. Yeah, I'll have I'll have links to all of those in the in the show notes. And yeah, I've mentioned them up ahead in in the intro as well just to make sure everybody has those and knows where to go to To support you and to see your work, and to get inspired and get out there and start, you know, taking taking meaningful images. Yes,
Sophie Gamand 42:09
yes. I mean, honestly, I feel like it's also such a smart move, you know, to take a photo, think about it if you if you go for as opposed to go viral, or to get attention from the media, if your photos are beautiful, but there's not something that journalists can talk about attached to those photos, it makes it so much harder for them. And I used to be a chief editor of the photo magazine before I became a full time photographer myself. So I think I was so used to interviewing artists and trying to find meaning to their work, that when I it was time for me to create my own work. I'm like, I'm just gonna make it easy for this journalist. Let me just create a body of work that has a lot to talk about. And think about it like that. It's like what are the stories you want drama needs to be able to grab and to be able to write about
Steve Arnold 42:57
and that I think is some great advice too. And the episode on so Sophie Thank you so much. This has been absolutely fantastic. Thank you. I will talk soon.
Sophie Gamand 43:06
Thank you Bye