If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance that you’ve come across one of Sophie Gamand‘s pictures of rescue pitbulls wearing gorgeous flower crowns (and obviously liked them on Instagram). We’ve been obsessed with her photos for a while now, especially since they’ve done so much to fight pittie stereotypes and raise awareness for rescue dogs. When we sat down to talk to the viral photographer, we were surprised to learn the same woman who has become a powerful advocate for animals was actually attacked by a dog as a child. She shared how she overcame her fears and changed the way we look at pitbulls forever:
Ollie: How did you become interested in photographing rescue and shelter dogs?
Gamand: I started photography in 2010 when I moved to NYC and didn’t know anyone here, dogs became my way to meet people. Very quickly I discovered the extent of how many dogs are in shelters, abandoned. I have this skill for photographing, so it was natural for me to start working with shelters. Back then, they thought it was a waste of time to photograph the dogs, but now social media has changed and they really see the importance of good images. It took a few years, but I stood firm in my belief that those images could make a difference, and now they do.
Ollie: What was the first shelter you worked with?
Gamand: I started working with the Sato Project in Puerto Rico and then Animal Haven, which became my second home here. And I foster a lot for Mr Bones and Co. Two years ago when I founded the flower crown series, I decided to travel, go to different states. Eventually around the world.
Ollie: How did the Flower Power series get started?
Gamand: I had been thinking about doing a pitbull project because there are so many of them, and they’re so controversial. I needed to get to know the breed so I could really be present when I’m photographing them in shelters. But I wanted to create a vision that has a massive effect. Can art be powerful enough to change the way we see and treat pitbulls and to even change my perspective? To completely reverse the perception of them, it had to be something feminine and soft and non-threatening.
Ollie: What has it taught you about pitbulls? What has the impact been?
Gamand: What I’ve learned is how unique their personalities are. They’re very attached to people, very loyal, obedient, very gentle—the fact that I can put a crown on a dog I’ve never met before is a testament. And their faces are so human-like, their expressions. I get messages every day telling me I’ve changed people’s perception of the breed or people thanking me saying I can walk proudly now because I know what my dog is. I’m not saying everyone should get a pitbull—they need humans who understand them. I’m just saying they aren’t angels or devils, they’re in the middle like any other dog. We need to take responsibility for them and the way we treat them.
Ollie: What was one super memorable shoot?
Gamand: For the first Flower Power shoot, I went to a shelter with the crowns and was not sure if the project was going to work. I was also afraid of pitbulls a little. I brought this one on set, DeeDee—she was quite calm when I put the crown on her, face to face—and I was thinking, this is the stupidest idea I’ve ever done, I’m going to lose my hands. Then I turn around with my heart beating, my hands are sweating, and she’s just sitting there very calm and dignified. There’s so much soul in her eyes and her energy, I took the photos and that was it. When you have all of these images of the monster in the media and then you’re confronted with this, it’s really powerful.
Ollie: What’s your advice for capturing dog’s personalities?
Gamand: For me what’s worked is to develop a language—the noises I make, the dance I do with a treat. I think the reason I’m able to capture these dogs is because we don’t know each other—I just communicate with them not necessarily with words but body language and try to surprise and entice their curiosity, it’s almost like a conversation.
Ollie: What can people do to help support the cause?
Gamand: Everybody has a voice, it’s important to bring awareness around you. Have that conversation casually. All of us, you can speak up against abuse, share posts, sign petitions, there are so many ways you can get involved. I think it’s important that we all take responsibility, in a non-threatening way, in a respectful way. Everyone should volunteer in a shelter once in their life – once you see behind the curtain, you understand that we all have a part in this.
See more of Gamand’s amazing work on her Instagram!
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