Since photography was invented, humans have had a corner on the market. Now they’ve got some competition. In his new book, PetCam: The World Through the Lens of Our Four-Legged Friends, available now from Princeton Architectural Press, Chris Keeney highlights the absurdity and unexpected artistry of photos taken by animals from around the world.
The photos are made possible by a PetCam, a small camera that one can attach to an animal’s collar or harness and can be made to shoot automatically at set intervals. It’s not a perfect technology, of course, and animals are often more interested in running, playing, and smelling things than looking for good angles and lighting conditions. But with the right guidance, and a bit of patience, they can get results that might surprise.
“If you head out to a spot where lots of things are going on and you're interacting with other pets and people, then you'll come back with some keepers. Granted you’re going to have to do some editing,” Keeney said via email. “And the more pictures you take the more editing you'll be doing later on. If you have the cameras take pictures more frequently, your odds of getting a better shots increases.”
The animal photographers in PetCam span the globe. There are Swiss cows, German cats, Californian guinea pigs, and a host of other creatures from North America, Europe, and Asia. “PetCams are happening all over the world so I wanted that to be reflected in the book. Finding all the people and their pets was challenging, but the Internet helps with that process. I didn't choose animals by the country they lived in but more by the quality of the photos they created,” he said.
Their subject matter is diverse—they capture life on farms, trips to the dog park and the beach, and plenty of interaction with other animals. Across the animal kingdom, Keeney found, PetCam photographers are eager to explore, which is great for getting interesting shots, but not ideal from a technical standpoint. “One of the challenges is getting shots that don’t have motion blur. So you may want to encourage your pet to stop every once and a while and slowly investigate something,” he said.
Keeney began using a PetCam in 2013 with his dog, Fred, out of a curiosity, as a fun activity to try on walks. Now, he said, the Chihuahua/terrier mix wags his tail every time he sees him with the PetCam collar in his hand because he knows it means “we’re about to go somewhere cool.”
Pet owners can have similarly enriching experiences with their animals, Keeney said. Besides serving as a great excuse to spend more time outside, PetCam photos can teach them a bit about their pets and themselves.
“If you’re allowing your pets to roam freely with the camera, you then will learn where they like to go during the day and the types of things they like to investigate. You may find yourself amazed how much time can be spent watching a bird sing in a tree. Maybe in the future you might stop and look at things closer yourself. Maybe the secret to a happy life isn't that complex after all,” he said.
Also in Slate: “If a Monkey Takes a Selfie, Who Owns the Copyright?”