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The Original LOLcats: Harry Whittier Frees

Have you heard of Harry Whittier Frees? Born in 1879, Frees was an American photographer who became well-known for his recognizable and unusual style of photography. Specifically, he posed animals in human scenarios – riding bicycles, painting on easels, sitting in a ferris wheel at the fair. Real, live animals, which he also dressed in tiny elaborate outfits. As these staged photographs were of animals and frequently included clever or cute captions, many have mused that Frees should be considered the father of LOLcats. In his book Animal Land on the Air, Frees expounded in great depth upon the individual natures of the kinds of animals he photographed, and how their traits made them more or less easy to work with:

“Rabbits are the easiest to photograph in costume, but incapable of taking many “human” parts. Puppies are tractable when rightly understood, but the kitten is the most versatile animal actor, and possesses the greatest variety of appeal. The pig is the most difficult to deal with, but effective on occasion. The best period of young animal models is a short one, being when they are from six to ten weeks of age. An interesting fact is that a kitten’s attention is best held through the sense of sight, while that of a puppy is most influenced by sound, and equally readily distracted by it.”

Huh. Kudos for kittens.

Frees eventually garnered some attention for his weird and adorable work, and had some success in the arenas of postcards and children’s books. I can only imagine the depth of the man’s patience, in such a technologically different era, in capturing each of those shots so perfectly, entirely at the mercy of a warm and squirming puppy. I imagine many shoots were suddenly paused on account of an overwhelming urge to cuddle.

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