While recently browsing Missouri-based animal photographer Lou Bopp‘s website, I came across a project that piqued my interest. It was a series of black and white photographs of pit bulls and their owners. The photos spanned nearly a decade and were shot all over the world—Missouri, Texas, Amsterdam, London, Jamaica and so on. I was curious to learn more about the project, and find out what had compelled Lou to stop strangers on the street to photograph them with dogs, that well, don’t get the best rap. Below is our interview on “The Pit Bull Series.” Enjoy!
– Maria Luci
How did you first start photographing Pit Bulls?
When I started making these images, we owned a great old building on 122nd St. in Harlem. Pits were prevalent there, and I was intrigued by their presence and the people that owned them. Ever since then, I’ve been shooting them wherever, whenever I can. It’s a great way of meeting those that I would typically never have the opportunity to meet and removing myself from the proverbial comfort zone. It’s not always easy to walk up to a stranger and ask permission to shoot them, sometimes I need that inner pep talk!
What was the initial idea behind the series?
It was my desire to do something productive and something (hopefully) positive in my neighborhood. There were a lot of cats and dogs on the loose and in need. I started out shooting animals and posting their images online to try to find them homes. I was also trying to kill the myth that pit bulls are all lethal. They are awesome dogs, however, their temperament can depend a lot on their up-bringing.
How did you find your subjects?
I have always found my subjects on the streets, typically on an errand, going to dinner, etc. I usually have a camera with me when I’m out.
Have there been any challenges in creating this series?
I wouldn’t have done if it weren’t for the challenges; I’m a challenge junkie! The challenges were mostly internal. As mentioned, finding the gumption to approach strangers is not always the easiest for me, especially if I’m on the way to a meeting or the store and not in the right head space. I push myself to approach people and the good news is that I have never had anybody say no.
A lot of my subjects, to put it mildly, do not appear to be the most approachable. Ironically, the toughest looking dogs and owners have been the nicest and the most generous with their time. It was and still is a status symbol to be seen walking the streets with a large un-neutered male dog. I see it as ego. I’ve been to some of their homes and even hung out a bit. At the end of the day I’m simply a really curious person and if I have the opportunity to enter someone else’s reality, as extreme as some of the environment’s are, I’m there. And subsequently, I can exit, hopefully with compelling images. That’s the reward.
Which dog has been the most memorable to photograph?
That would have to be the one in West Texas. A couple of dudes were off to fight their dog and stopped for gas. I approached them at the gas station. They were bragging about how they give their dogs the edge by implanting habanero peppers where the “sun don’t shine.” Supposedly that really pisses the dogs off and they go crazy, get real mean. Can’t say I blame them. They talked about some shock “therapy” etc. I lost sleep that night about that dog, still do. Some sick minds, and it was all so normal to them.
How long have you been working on this project? Do you consider it finished?
For about 10 plus years—it’s ongoing. I doubt that it will ever be finished. I have a few projects that I’m shooting that will not stop until my heart stops. I just like to shoot too much, it’s in my blood.
What has the response been to the images so far?
I just posted them for the first time on my blog. It’s pretty amazing the power of social media and blogs. I have had quite a few people hit me up, liking this series. I actually get a lot of positive feedback from my corporate and agency clients, which is great.
What do you want people to take away from the photos?
Since everybody views things differently based on their own reality and history, I’m not sure that I would would want to have any expectations as to what I would want others to take away from this. However if pressed, I suppose the take away would be a visceral reaction and a discussion, whether internal or with others. Perhaps some empathy regarding the way some treat other living beings.
Did you learn anything through creating this series?
Yes, the list is huge… but I always try to approach each subject and job with an open mind. It would have been really easy and convenient to do otherwise on this project and pre-label these folks and dogs. Approaching it with an open mind made all of the difference in the world. It was encouraging to feel positive vibes from nearly everyone of the subjects. I know that some weren’t the most law abiding citizens and came from different walks of life, but they were all were quite decent, at least within my presence.
I also photographed quite a few rescue dog’s, it’s always awesome to see them in a good loving home. I know first hand, because we rescued one as well.