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Walter Chandoha: The Godfather Of Cat Photos (15 Photos)

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    black and white picture of cats walking together in group

    Walter George Chandoha is one of the most prolific cat photographers to date and the pioneer of cat photos. Born in the 1920s, he developed a love for photography in his teens. When World War II came around, Chandoha was registered as a press photographer then later a combat photographer in the war. 

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    five kittens sitting next to each other in front of blue background

    After the war, Chandoha was living in Queens, New York, with his wife Maria Ratti while he studied at the N.Y.U. School of Commerce, Accounts, and Finance. One night he was walking home when he found a small kitten abandoned in the snow. Chandoha tucked him into his jacket and took him home, calling him Loco. Loco soon became the subject of his photos and inspired him to primarily take photos of cats. 

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    two kittens in a basket with yellow background

    Chandoha started his cat photography career by submitting to photography contests, but it was when he went into advertisement that he really began to make his mark. Post-war America was pouring money into advertising, and Chandoha's hunch that cats would warm the hearts of consumers was right. 

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    black and white photo of little girl in old fashioned clothes with group of cats outside

    Chandoha took photos in both black and white and color. As photography editor Reuel Golden notes, "Walter was equally adept in color and black and white. He could formally shoot cats in the studio, he could photograph stray cats roaming the streets of 1950s New York, he could shoot them in action like a sports photographer and he could take beautiful portraits of cats with his children in their farm in New Jersey." 

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    11 different colored kittens sitting on two levels of white shelves looking playful

    Chandoha's photographs of cats were soon seen everywhere, from pet foot packages, greeting cards and calendars to a giant Kodak display in Grand Central, New York. His simple, affectionate photos of cats, combined with his photographic expertise, resulted in photographs that everyone could relate to. 

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    ginger cat licking ginger kitten with blue eyes in front of green background

    Chandoha was an accomplished photographer and used special techniques to make his photos as impressive as they are. Inspired by printmaker Tsuguharu Foujita and Girl With a Pearl Earring painter Johannes Vermeer, Chandoha used six lights in his cat photoshoots: 2 for the background, 2 for the foreground, and 2 to make the cats' fur light up. 

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    black and white photo of cat lying on top of beagle puppy

    Although his main subject was cats, he did photograph dogs too. How adorable is this one?!

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    four siamese kittens inside basket in front of aqua background

    Chandoha's work inspired other artists too. It is reported that when Andy Warhol needed inspiration for his illustrated book, 25 Cats Name Sam and One Blue Pussy, he went to Chandoha's work for inspiration. 

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    stript grey and black cat yawning on purple background

    Chandoha once famously said "Cats cannot and will not be rushed. And if you are a cat owner, you know, well, you're really don't own a cat, they own you and spend their days on their own terms and schedules."

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    siamese kitten with blue eyes and big blue bow tie around neck on blue carpet with blue background

    Over his lifetime, Chandoha published 34 books, which included photography books, photography manuals and a book of manners called Mind Your Manners

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    black and white photo of little girl with kitten on her shoulder both are smiling

    Chandoha's photography played a seminal role in popularizing the cat photo and helping the public to remember their love of cats. Although he passed away in January 2019, the most important years for him professionally were the 50s and 60s. Many of the photos taken during those years were used as some of the first cat memes on the internet. 

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    picture three cats sitting on three poles of fence above each other all licking their paws at the same time

    Chandoha wasn't a one man show. As he was working with cats and kittens, who are notoriously curious and playful, he often relied on his wife's help with keeping the kitties occupied and in the right spot. 

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    picture kitten butting head into small puppy with aqua background

    But often, his best photos were a combination of perfect timing, photographic expertise and some very adorable creatures. 

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    picture grey and black striped kitten sitting inside huge old book in front of stack of other books and red background

    Judging by the recent history of cat photos, they're not about to obsolete anytime soon. Even if they did, Chandoha's work would remain to be pieces of magic. 

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    black and white picture cat and small kitten running past bamboo blinds with shadow on ground


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