Jamie Campbell’s cat photographs are not intended to be an over-arching dive into the emotional capacities of his feline friends, nor are they easily dismissible as short-lived memes. Like many of the photographers included in Humble’s 2014 exhibition “New Cats in Art Photography,” they are intermediary muses that serve as thoughtful pauses between his commercial work and long-term personal projects. They scatter throughout his blog, Instagram and occasionally find their way into other series, but rarely appear as their own set. When grouped together, however, the images become an accidentally cohesive body of portraits that are consistently curious and empathetic.
The images, generally shot on medium or large format film, often over a period of several hours with each cat, represent what Campbell describes as a “stoic vulnerability.” It’s a process that transforms the cats into mere objects or still lifes rather than revealing their inner qualities. Like his staged images of people, they are all frozen moments, crafted fictions. “Perhaps when slowing things down,” Jamie tells us, “placing them in a more ‘serious’ studio situation and no longer treating them as cats, but more like pure subjects, things begin to change. They become less cat-like, less alive. I am not sure how many people have asked me if the cats in the photos are taxidermy. There is a real-ness that is removed, or stripped away, in the way I aesthetically treat my cat photographs. I’ve always thought of photographs in general as pure fiction, and I don’t think otherwise about the images I make of cats. I am not capturing their inner-essence, or deep character, I am just freezing and visually reproducing a sliver of a second of their physical-ness.”
Since cats tend to be fickle photographic subjects, Campbell transports his studio setup to each individual cat’s house in order to put them at ease. His process is generally hands-off, and often relies on waiting patiently, sometimes up to 10 minutes at a time before shooting even a single frame.
“You have to be pretty patient,” says, Campbell “cats give you the best things when you don’t expect it…I’ve seen cats fall asleep while I was shooting them. I used to use this cat toy called Da’ Bird, but to be honest that gets the cat way too hyper (but it is a great tool to tire them out). It is hard to get a hyper cat to stay still. I almost have to bore them.”
While Campbell self-describes his cat pictures as being cold, unrevealing one-offs, this work is in many ways tied to his personal relationship with cats - one that goes much deeper their objectified qualities or superficial quirks. Campbell began photographing cats regularly after he developed a fascination with a specific cat named “Adam” he found on the Internet. He was drawn to Adam -- a cross between three breeds: a Scottish Fold, a Devon Rex and a Munchkin -- for what he saw as “heroic” qualities that represented a strange and powerful metaphor for self-determination.
“He was the only male of his kind,” Jamie writes, “and he refused to mate. The only male Suskin-Munchkin in the entire world refused to reproduce or spread his seed. I respected him for his decisions. He wanted to end his genetic line. He was a hero, a martyr. He wasn’t willing to participate in someone else’s quest to play God. He was no Pawn...And before he completely disappeared, I had a need to make him the very thing I viewed him as – A Photographic Negative.”
Bio: Jamie Campbell was born and raised in Niagara Falls, Ontario. In 2006, he received a BFA from Ryerson University in Toronto. A recent MFA graduate from Concordia University in Montreal, Quebec, his work creates fictional narratives that display introverted moments of vulnerability and the exhaustion wrought by defeat. Campbell currently lives and works in Toronto.