New York City-based commercial, editorial, and advertising photographer Winnie Au is a “do it all” photographer. No, seriously… she can do it all. Her work is stellar across the board and she’s great with keeping me updated on her extremely busy life, always sending over cool features, projects, and updates from her entertaining blog Pamplemousse Goose. To put it lightly, she’s not lazy. Of all of the different things she does, Winnie’s animal work is usually my favorite. (Shocking, I know.) The images are adorable and captivating, and she even recently collaborated on a book called Canine Chronicles, profiling ten special dogs and their contributions to history. I need a copy.
For a recently ongoing personal project, Winnie combines everything she loves in life — dogs, people, and spaces. Below, I chat with Winnie about this fun project and her ideas for the future of it. Enjoy!
How does this project fit into your photographic style? How did you get started with it?
I’ve been wanting to work on a shoot that combines all of the things that I love in life – people, spaces, and dogs. I currently do a lot of environmental portrait shoots that involve stepping into somebody’s home or workplace for a few hours to explore their life. Part of what I love about environmental portrait photography is getting to see people through their spaces, and I thought it would be great to take the environmental portrait shoots that I typically do one step further and explore interesting spaces that also have dogs or pets living in them. Being a dog owner, I know how integral a pet becomes to your daily life, and I thought it would be great to see how various pets and their owners across the country live. It’s a topic I’ve been thinking about photographing for a couple of years now.
Why do you create personal work as a photographer?
The longer you take photographs commercially, the more important it is to remember to do personal work. When I started, I was creating only personal work, and the challenge was to explain to editors and art buyers how this could be translated into something they need or want. As you get hired on more and more projects, you begin to develop your style and you also learn how to interpret a client’s needs and still stay true to your style. But typically you are juggling a balancing act between fulfilling your assignment and creating the most artistic or “me” interpretation of that thing.
So I think it’s important to keep creating personal work so you can challenge yourself to make things that aren’t influenced by your client or art director and that just purely come from within. To me, it’s the best way to explain yourself to people who don’t know you. “This is me, this is how I see things” – it’s very direct communication. Personal work to me is what you would do/make if money were no object if you had endless time and endless resources…it’s a creative outlet that lets you explore your own photographic style and gives you the freedom to try new things. It’s also a way for you to make work that you care a lot about. I’m always afraid for a year to pass by, and to look at the work I’ve made that year, and to be unable to find something that I’m excited about. This is a way to ensure that won’t happen!
Were there any challenges involved with this project?
To be honest, I just started this project and my test subjects were so good that I think I was pretty lucky. Typically with any animal shoot your big mystery/question mark is the animal talent, aka in this case Penny the Samoyed. But Penny behaved wonderfully, she was pretty much made to be in front of the camera. I would say the only hitch we encountered was that after the shoot wrapped, we learned that the building elevator was out, so my assistant and I had to carry all of our gear down many flights of stairs. But a little sweating is good for me! Ok, I actually hate sweating, but walking up and downstairs with photo equipment was definitely not the worst thing to ever happen to me on a project.
What has the reaction to the images been so far?
The reaction has been really positive so far – we got some decent traffic on Tumblr after posting the story, and I’ve had a few clients reference the photos which is always nice.
What are the future plans for this project?
I’m actually hoping to turn this into a month-long project and am aiming to photograph people in their homes with their dogs all over the country via a road trip. So if you or anyone you know feels like they would be a good candidate, please send them my way! Interested people can send an image of themselves, their home, and a picture of their dog (or cat or other pet) to [email protected] I’m looking for photogenic homes/spaces with a great overall aesthetic. The style doesn’t need to be specifically modern or any specific look, but the home should be unique and an expression of the owner and his/her pet. The next place I plan to photograph is on a farm upstate that is beautifully rustic and is home to a few good-looking dogs. I’m pretty excited about that shoot!