Archive for the ‘Cat Shows’ Category

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How to get cats to photograph themselves and other secrets: the magic of Tetsu Yamazaki

6 September, 2010

Tetsu and Hiroki Yamazaki

For all of us who’ve tried to take a photograph of a cat, we all know how impossible it is to capture the perfect pose because cats are constantly in action!  I have stacks of photos of cats with missing heads, tails or who are mere blurs.  So I’m always filled with envy when I look at cat books and see row-upon-row of perfectly-posed cats.  Just how do these professional cat photographers do it? Here’s how Tetsu Yamazaki, one of the world’s top cat photographers demonstrates his magic.

Tetsu Yamazaki is famous for the book “Legacy of the Cat“.  The book is considered the definitive classic not only because it is filled with expert information on the 37 breeds of cat represented in cat shows, it’s illustrated with beautiful photos which capture the magic of each of these breeds.I was thrilled to meet Tetsu and his wife, Hiroki, at a recent cat show – UK CoonTICA’s “Somewhere over the Rainbow”.  Tetsu’s presence highlighted the significance of the show as it the first TICA Western European regional show.For someone with such a prestigious reputation, Tetsu and his wife were unassuming, warm and open.  They happily chatted to me about his life and work as a cat photographer.

 Q:  Why did he become a cat photograph?
A:  He fell into it by accident.  34 years ago, the photographic industry
was going through a bit of a lull and he was at a loose end.  A friend had
been commissioned to do a cat photography book and insisted that he take
the photos.  So he did.  At the end of that the publisher decided that he
was a good cat photographer.  And so did the people who bought the book.   So he didn’t make a conscious decision to become a cat photographer – it was almost an act of fate that saw him become one.

He’s recently done a new edition of his book “Legacy of the Cat” because
when he photographed the first edition 20 years ago, many breeds of cat we
have today were still not available, for example, the Bengal was a new
breed then, and there were no Munchkins.

Q:  Has his style changed much over the 20 years?
A:  Not really because a lot of what people want to see in their cat photos is the same.  However, his photographs try to capture the cat in its natural pose. 

As my cat soulmate Sonya (who was also there) reminded me, his wife Hiroki showed us a special Japanese edition of a cat magazine which featured the work of several cat photographers.  Hiroki turned to the pages of Persian cats – she explained that two (or three ?) other photographers had contributed photos on that breed.  Most of the cats were in static poses and she pointed to each in turn saying “other photographer, other photographer, other photographer..” – until the last photo, where the Persian cat was standing on its hind legs waving its paws in the air – “Tetsu photo!”

Japanese cat magazine featuring Tetsu's photos

Q:  What’s the main secret of cat photography?
A:  Play with the cat.  Engage with the cat.  Bring out the playfulness of
the cat.  Some cats are more walking cats.  Some look better when turning.  So he tries to suit his style of play to the cat.  In that way the cat will almost take the photograph itself!  There was something almost Zen in the way he described his method, but it makes sense – why force the cat to do something it doesn’t feel comfortable with?  Better to play to its strengths and natural movements.Q:  Which cats are the easiest and which the hardest breeds of cats to photograph?
A:  It’s not breed-specific.  It all depends on the personality and
temperament of the cat.  And also the desires of the cat owners.  For
example, owners of Persian cats have often trained their cats to adopt very
passive and still positions, to preserve their beautiful coats.  So that’s
what the photo will consist of:  a beautiful cat sitting still!  He finds that playful cats are easy to photograph as they will engage with the photographer.

Tetsu's travelling studio set-up

Q:  What kind of studio setup does he use?

A:  Because his work involves a lot of travelling to different cat shows, his studio has to be portable, and simple to setup and transport.  For example, at the CoonTICA show, the room that was allocated to him was a classroom.  On one side, he taped a plain white background to the wall, which overhung a table.  The cat to be photographed was placed on the table.  Directly overhead was a light with an umbrella diffuser and opposite the table at a diagonal was another.   

Q:  So no light box?  [this is a 3-sided box made of translucent material in which the cat is placed.  I’ve seen this at a lot of UK cat shows and assumed that it was the norm as it means the cat has nowhere to escape and can be easily controlled. ]A:  No, he doesn’t use a light box.  (I’m not a technical person, but my understanding of his explanation was that to shoot with a light box means he would have to stand closer to get at arm’s length to the cat and that would mean using a camera with a wide-angle lens or if he stood back, he would need a telephoto lens which would make for a heavy camera.  He prefers to shoot single-handed (for reasons which are explained later).   

He also prefers using a table because it allows the cat to move naturally and pose itself.  Q:  But what if the cat jumps off the table and tries to run away?
A:  If the cat jumps off the table as sometimes happens, it usually jumps
back up because it knows that Tetsu would play with it on the table.

Q:  What sort of toys did he use to play with the cats?

A:  At most of the UK cat shows I’ve been to, all the cat photographers use cat wands to get the cat’s attention and direct the gaze – these are standard shop-bought wands of about 2 feet long with a lure at the end.

Tetsu's cat wands

 Tetsu had customised his own wands.  He had taken 3 Japanese fishing rods made of bamboo of approximately six feet.  At the end of each rod was a lure.  One had some sparkly bits, the second a long feather, and the third a piece of paper.  Their extra long length allowed him to stand well back from the table and hold it up very high to pulll the cat’s gaze upwards.   And because the rods were telescopic, they retracted to about a foot long and could be easily packed for travel.  

The fishing rods were very thin and whippy so that when he flicked his wrist sharply, the feather made a sound that was very like the clap of a bird’s wing taking off.  I was very impressed – this was a cat magician in action! 

Close-up of the lures on Tetsu's cat wands

 Q:  So did his assistant hold the rods while Tetsu took the photos?

A:  No, Tetsu held the rod in his left hand. In is right hand he held his camera.  He was both cat wrangler and photographer.  Again, this was very different from a lot of cat photographers I’ve observed where they depend on having an assistant to direct the cat while the photographer composed the picture.  It made sense though – rather than rely on an assistant, by doing both, Tetsu was able to play and direct the cat into poses he wanted.  It gave him more control over the subject and the photo. 

(Later, I read that this method of photographing a cat by holding the camera in the right hand is recognised as Tetsu’s trademark – “to photograph Tetsu-style” it’s called!)  Q:  What sort of camera does he use? A:  Because of his technique of being both wrangler and photographer, he needs a camera that is light enough to be held in his right hand.  The camera he currently uses is a Canon EOS 50D. When he first started out in cat photography 34 years ago (and remember this was before digital photography had been invented) his camera was a roll-film camera, the Bronica. The Bronica was like a Hasselblad, with an overhead viewfinder, so that the user could hold the camera at waist height and still be able to see the subject on the screen. Tetsu actually preferred this old-style camera as it meant that he could film a cat on a table while standing up, whereas with modern-day cameras with viewfinders on the back, he sometimes has to kneel to get on the same level as the cat.  ********

What struck me throughout the interview was Tetsu’s joy in his work, and sense of going with the flow.  He prefers to play with the cat and let it express itself naturally.  There was no straining for effect.  This was a kind of Zen magician of cat photography. 

I asked if he had a website or was on Facebook or Flickr, and he told me that he didn’t have any of these public presences.  I found that very refreshing in an age where people believe that if you’re not on a social media site you don’t exist!  But Tetsu explained that he preferred to keep a low profile, enjoying his life on the outskirts of Tokyo, away from the frenzy of the city and letting his jobs take him where they did, all over the world.Tetsu does have an e-mail address though and you can contact him on catography@sky.so-net.jp.  He also recently signed up with image library Animal Photography.  Please check out Tetsu’s page for some wonderful photos of cats.

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Catswhiskers kitten wins at cat show

18 September, 2008

Iced Ginger with her winning rosette

Catswhiskers Iced Ginger, one of the kittens from the current litter, won a First in her Open class at the Wyvern Cat Show held on Saturday 13 Sept 2008. 

This is the first of my kittens to have been in a cat show and I can’t begin to tell you how proud that she’s done so well.

Iced Ginger is a red silver classic tabby and because of her subtle colouring, she was named after a rose:  “iced Ginger Rose – a pale pink rose with a gingery orange centre.”

Her owner is Lynnette Cannell of Mabalakat Maine Coons.  Thank you, Lynnette, for showing her!

Here’s Iced Ginger enjoying a catnip cigar that I’d given her to say well-done!

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CoonTICA Easter Purrade 2008

26 April, 2008

I visited CoonTICA’s Easter Purrade on Saturday 19 April.  Easter Purrade is a cat show organised by the Maine Coon Club in the UK that’s affiliated with The International Cat Association (TICA) – I’m a member of CoonTICA.

It wasn’t just Maine Coons at the show, but all breeds of cat.  All in all there must have been about 250 cats being shown, in 5 rings, over 2 days.  It’s definitely one of the highlights in the cat show calendar.

Like I’d done at a previous year’s show, I decided to help out by ring-stewarding.  This involves cleaning out the show pens in between classes.  It doesn’t sound very glamorous, but it does put you in close proximity to the judging.  I highly-recommend it as a way of getting to see all the cats in the show, and to learn how the judges do it.

I was put in Ring 3 which was under the judging of Laura Cunningham, a TICA judge who also breeds Maine Coons under the prefix Coonyham.  So definitely a very seasoned pro.  She was amazing – really focused; she involved the audience and cat owners and just loved explaining what she was doing.  She was on the go from 9am to 5.30pm, judging 250 cats almost non-stop – she had more stamina than me!

Discovery Channel were there too, filming the show for their Animal Planet documentary.  Here are some photos of the judging in action:

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Smile!  You’re on Animal Planet!

Notice the judge’s props – scratching post, ticklers, feather toys, wands.  They are not used to play with the cats, but to get the cats to lift their heads or extend their bodies so that the judge can better assess their profiles or standard.  Of course, most of the cats thought that it was just an great excuse to play!

laura and bengal

Laura admires a beautifully-marked marble Bengal

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One of the best Persians in the show (sorry about the red eye!)

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Some of the beautiful rosettes awarded at the show.

Cats sometimes spray in show pens (especially stud cats), and it’s the owner’s job to clean-up after them.  The problem was that the smell of stud cat pee tended to persist.  So even after the owner had had a go, I still had to clean the pen multiple times, and use an enzyme-based odour-destroyer.  Even then the pen had to be taken out of action until the smell had worn off.  Furthermore, any cleaning towels had to be disposed of away from the judging ring because if another stud cat subsequently smelt it, that would trigger the stud cat to start spraying.  All in all I must have had about 3 spraying cats that day.  I was exhausted!

If I was exhausted, so were the cats by the end of the day, and in the final few rounds some of them threw hissy fits so that Laura had to ask the owners to help take them out of the show pens and put them on the judging table.  Not surprisingly, the feisty Bengals were the main culprits, but having said that, one of the winning Bengals was a fantastic male who calmly sat on his owner’s lap while she sat in the audience – good as gold!

With thanks to Laura Cunningham for permission to use the photos I took of her judging.  And a huge round of applause for Ros Wood, President of CoonTICA and Martin Wood, for organising this very popular and successful show and for allowing me to help out.  See you next year!

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The Supreme, Shopping and a Sphynx

24 November, 2007

The Supreme (which was held on Saturday 17th November this year), is the largest cat show in the UK and is run by the Governing Council of the Cat Fancy (GCCF).  To qualify for entry to the Supreme Show a cat must first win at a GCCF Championship Show.   So as you can expect the standard is very high.It’s also one of the best shows if you want to see any breed of cat, meet cat breeders or go shopping for cat products.

It’s held at the NEC in Birmingham, and last year I went by train, which meant I couldn’t get as much cat goodies as I wanted to because I couldn’t see myself lugging bags of cat litter back on the train.  It was a shame because cat shows are the best places to see what was new on the market, buy in bulk, receive discounts, or to get free samples of cat products.

This year I was lucky.  My new kitten owners were curious to see what a cat show was like, plus they wanted to do some cat shopping.  They were going to drive there, so I cheekily asked if I could have a lift there – no problem, they said!  So this year, I did the journey there and back in an extremely comfortable car.  As an added bonus, the said car had a lot of boot space so we could really stock up.

And my, these new kitten owners were smart shoppers.  They came prepared with trolleys on wheels so we wouldn’t have to carry everything by hand.  Definitely a good idea, those trolleys – in fact, we probably could have set up a stand selling them as we saw loads of people struggling with bags while we sauntered by.

So what did we buy?

Cat food:  Applaws Cat food by the box because there was a case discount.  applaws.jpgApplaws is the UK-equivalent of Almo Nature Cat food – very very high quality, human-quality, in fact food.  Real bits of chicken, or fish.  No preservatives, soya, filler, carbs, apart from a little rice or pumpkin.  You could make a sandwich with the tinned chicken – it’s that good.   Bozita cat food by the case as well.  Bozita is a Swedish brand, it comes in nifty tetra-packs which fold over at the top so you can store them easily.  Bozita CrayfishThey were giving away kitten packs with every case – the box containing the kitten pack had a house printed on it, and the windows and door of the house were perforated so you could take them out and the kittens could play in the house!  Interesting flavours – crayfish, for one.  Bozita has an 88-95% meat content.  Unlike Applaws, it’s meat that’s reconstituted into chunks, not real pieces of meat, but without any soya or grains which is good because you want to avoid feeding carbs to cats.  Some of the ingredients seemed expensive to me, like crayfish, but maybe crayfish in Sweden is not an expensive food?  We got some free samples of a new brand of canned cat food from the US – Evangers – premium ingredients again, like organic chicken, or pheasant, and high in protein.  I went home and opened the can, and it was pate-type cat food which unfortunately aren’t to my cats’ tastes – pity.   Royal Canin had a large stand there – they make dried cat food and are priced at the higher end of the market.  I was curious about their breeder scheme, and was told that breeders received 30% discount (or thereabouts) or RC cat food.  However, you couldn’t just fill in a form to join, but you had to buy a 20kg bag from the stand, and then one of their sales reps would sit you down and talk to you.  What about I asked, but they wouldn’t tell me.  I didn’t have the time nor the inclination, so I declined.

CatsBestNaturesGoldCat Litter:  There were a few new-ish brands of cat litter on the market.  It seems the trend is moving towards biodegradable cat litter in a bid to capture the eco-conscious cat lover.  Which is all very well, but how good is the odour control and is it easy to clean?  I bought some Cat’s Best Nature’s Gold – it’s pellets made from fir and spruce wood.  I was interested in it because I’d used Cat’s Best OKO Plus previously which is more granular.  Nature’s Gold is supposed to track less, and not stick to the furry bottoms of long-haired cats.  There was a special offer on:  a 20kg bag for £12, 2 bags for £11 each etc.  World’s Best Cat Litter had a stand and I mentioned that my kitten packs never arrived, and they promised to send them to my kitten owners, so fingers crossed.

ElGatoCatnipCigarCat toys:  we were hoping that Da Bird cat toys would be available, but the person who has the sole distributorship in the UK wasn’t there.  We got some catnip toys – an El Gato catnip Cigar and a Yeoww!  Catnip Banana.  So far I haven’t found a more potent catnip toy, and one which lasts and lasts.  Some of the catnip toys on the market look large, but the catnip doesn’t fill the whole toy.  With an El Gato the whole of the catnip toy is packed with catnip.  And it seems to stay potent for a long time.  I still have a catnip cigar that’s a year old and still gets revisted by my cats.  These catnip toys are more pricey (RRP is £5.50), but we bought ours from a cat club table for £4.  I also bought two spiders made from pipe cleaners from another club table.  My Bengal loves these pipe cleaner spiders – it seems to trigger something in her predator brain and she will pounce and kill them over and over.

Which brings me to the cats, just in case you thought we were only there for the shopping.  Did we look at the Maine Coons?  Of course we did.  We saw some really huge fellas – the largest weighed in at 25 lbs!!!  My new kitten owner was a walking endorsement for me – she showed off her kitten photos, and I was really chuffed.  I’ve been hoping for a red stud boy for Ananda next year, and someone who saw the kitten photos was a breeder with just such a stud, so watch this space!

Which brings me to the final topic in this post: the Sphynx cat.  I wrote briefly about the Sphynx in my post last year on the Supreme.  They are an extreme-looking type of cat, and not to everyone’s taste, but there’s something so alien,  yet noble about their looks that I love them.  Despite their strangeness, they are cats through and through, and love a cuddle and are very friendly.  My new kitten owner hadn’t seen a Sphynx, so I dragged her to the exotic cat section.  She wasn’t disappointed.  In most cat shows, the owners don’t allow their cats to be handled by the public in case of germs.  The Sphynx owners were more obliging than most others – we got to touch and hold two Sphynx cats.

SupremeSphynx1 This is Infurno Kismet owned by Sara Allwright.  When I held him, he just lay in my arms, purring.  I put my cheek to his flank and it was warm and felt just like a peach.  Sphynx cats aren’t totally bald – they have little bits of fur at the base of their ears, and a few hairs on their tails.

See you next year at the Supreme!

(with many thanks to the Zealands for a fantastic day out, and without whom this post wouldn’t have been written)

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What makes a top show cat?

5 May, 2007

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(one of the top cats at the TICA Easter Purrade show.  The judge is Vickie Shields, showing her appreciation for a great cat.)

Put a whole group of prize-winning cats in a judging ring, all of them with sound conformation and excellent type – how do you select the top cat from such stiff competition?

At the recent TICA Easter Purrade cat show, one of the judges summed up how she chose the top cat of top cats:  it had to make her laugh.

Yes, at the end of the day, when you have a row of perfect cats, it’s personality that counts in a cat show.

If you look at the judge’s table in a TICA show ring, you’ll see some toys and props that a judge uses to suss out what a cat is like.  There’ll usually be a cat scratching post, a stick-type toy with a feathery lure, and maybe something that makes a noise.  Vickie Shields also had some miniature plastic penguins (which were weighted so they wobbled back and forth) on the table (if you look closely at the photo, you’ll see one of the penguins near the Bengal’s head).  This allows the cat being judged to focus on the table rather than on the audience.  Female cats especially are easily distracted by their surroundings – it’s an evolutionary trait because female cats have had to look out for their kittens and tend to be more aware of what’s going on, to stop the owl flying overhead from going for her kitten.  So, the toy penguins allow cats to look downwards rather than out.  All part of the tricks-of-the-trade of a TICA judge!

The top Top cat in the ring was a Bengal stud cat.  Now, based on my personal experience with my Bengal girl neuter, I expect a cat who’s intractable, noisy and difficult to handle.  So I was anticipating the worse from an entire male at the peak of his strength and health!  What I saw instead was a Bengal who was a delight to handle.  The judge held him up facing her and he placed his paws on her, she chatted to him and he took it all in good spirits.  (if it had been my girl the judge would have been short of one eye by then!).

The winning point came when the Bengal started climbing up the scratching post.  The judge tried to pick him up and he squirmed downwards in her hands, so that he was climbing DOWN the post, bum in the air.  The whole audience laughed too.

That Bengal was bomb-proof and a joy to handle.  He entertained us all.  He deserved to be Top of the Top cats.

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Some photos from the Supreme Cat show

13 December, 2006

Here are a few photos I took at the Supreme Cat show in Birmingham (see previous post for more details of the show).  I had to wait until the cats were out of their pens before taking the shots.  I did make a note of whose cats they were, but unfortunately I’ve misplaced those notes – if this is your cat in the photo, please would you accept my apologies.  As soon as I find those notes I will update this post with the owner details.  Supreme1Alternatively, please e-mail me if you this is your cat.  And many many thanks for being so patient and answering my questions and also letting me stroke your beautiful cats!

Here is a Siberian at the Siberian Cat Club table.  

My friend and I were bowled over by how gentle and cuddly this Siberian was – one of the best-handled cats Supreme2we’ve ever met!  He just snuggled up to his owner and put his head on her shoulders.  We now both want a Siberian.  In case you were wondering, yes, they look like Maine Coons, but there are differences.  The one unseen difference is that Siberians lack the gene that causes people to be allergic to cats – most people who can’t have cats because of allergies can have a Siberian.Supreme3

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And here is the cat that you either love or hate, the Sphynx.  Again, many thanks to these two Sphynx owners who allowed me to pet their cats.  Contrary to appearences, the Sphynx is not a wimpy cat, it’s very muscular and has very thick skin.