Photographer & Animal Advocate
A lifelong artist, Sophie Gamand has been pursuing dog portraiture since 2010. When she moved to New York City and realized how many animals were in shelters, she decided to use her camera as a tool for change. Since then, she has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for animal nonprofits. Her photo series, Pit Bull Flower Power — which depicts Pit Bull-type dogs in shelters wearing flower crowns — went viral and led to hundreds of adoptions. Gamand has compiled two photo books, Wet Dog and Pit Bull Flower Power. Her work has been featured in National Geographic, Oprah Magazine, Slate, and many more publications; and it has been exhibited around the world.
What inspired you to start photographing animals?
Animals have always been important in my life. Growing up, my best friend and confidant was a bunny. Communication always seems easier with animals than it is with humans. Whenever I have had a camera in my hands, for as far as I can remember, I have pointed it at animals. Cameras help me make sense of the world and create intimacy with my subjects.
In 2010, I moved to New York City and when I heard how many animals were stuck in shelters, I knew my camera had to become a tool for change and to help save lives. I became a shelter photographer, donating my time and skills to animal rescues and shelters. It started with one rescue, one shelter, and quickly my mission grew — especially because the demand was huge (I have the craziest waitlist). Now, I travel around the United States and abroad, visiting rescues, photographing their work and their animals, helping dogs get adopted, raising funds for these rescues, shedding a light on the stories these dogs tell us.
What is your mission/philosophy as it pertains to photographing dogs in need (shelter dogs, the dog meat trade, etc)?
My camera and I have become witnesses and a voice for these animals. When I started a decade ago, most shelter animals’ portraits were terrible. Poor lighting, blurry photos of animals who looked sick and scared. I really wanted to make them shine instead, and capture their beauty. I wanted adopters to see my portraits and connect with the animals, projecting their lives with them. It is so important to me, to help and witness these animals as they transition from their previous life to what awaits them: a new home, safety, health, a family, forever love... With my photographs, I want to give these animals their dignity back.
What keeps you motivated to help pets (and the people who love them)?
Over the years, I have built a platform and strengthened my voice. It is a privilege to use what I have to help animals in need. As an animal advocate, I am convinced that we cannot help animals without helping their humans, too (and vice-versa). I feel so inspired to continue to speak up for what I think is right, and lift up the people who are doing difficult work on the ground. There is so much need everywhere, it can be overwhelming. But when I hear that one single photo of mine has helped a dog find a home after seven years in a shelter, I am amazed at the power of art and social media combined. When I hear that one of my campaigns or series of portraits have changed the mind of someone, or broadened their understanding of dogs, I am humbled and inspired to continue the work. When I can help raise enough funds to spay and neuter 150 animals in Mexico, I know we can achieve great things when we all come together. The rescue family is a big and wonderful community to be a part of.
What is your best piece of advice to pet parents?
Learn to listen to your pet. And I mean, really listen. We have become so lazy with our pets. We take them for granted, and for a long time, we have projected on them, we have acted as if we knew exactly what they wanted and how they felt — or sometimes, we just haven’t cared about what they feel or need. We have commodified our pets in many ways. I think it’s time we re-evaluate our relationship with them. I don’t think most of us have ever tried to really listen. When our pets do something that frustrates us, we take shortcuts instead of trying to really understand what is going on. We don’t try and walk in their “paws”. We assume we know better, because we are the humans in charge. What if we don’t know better? What if we could humble ourselves in the relationship, and listen better? What kind of world could we discover with our pets? There are more and more voices rising on the subject, veterinarians, dog trainers, scientists…all are inviting us to shake our conceptions, relinquish our old beliefs about the animal-human bond, and to rethink how we communicate with our pets.
What’s the wildest part of your job?
Spending the day at the shelter or with a rescue, rolling on the floor with dogs in need, coming home exhausted, emotional, covered in slobber, dog hair, feces. Knowing that I gave it all. Feeling deeply touched that a dog trusted me to capture their beauty and tell their story. And above all, that I get to say: I am an artist whose work helps animals find homes. Isn’t that completely wild?
Articles featuring Sophie Gamand
My pro tips for taking grid-worthy (and life-saving) portraits of your pooch.