AmericaShotPhotographic portrait; Pet Project by Kathryn Mussallem

The photographer Diane Arbus spoke about entering into people’s (actually strangers’) homes. “If I were just curious, it would be very hard to say to someone, ‘I want to come to your house and have you talk to me and tell me the story of your life.’I mean people are going to say, ‘You’re crazy.’ Plus they’re going to keep mighty guarded. But the camera is a kind of license. A lot of people, they...

The photographer Diane Arbus spoke about entering into people’s (actually strangers’) homes.

“If I were just curious, it would be very hard to say to someone, ‘I want to come to your house and have you talk to me and tell me the story of your life.’I mean people are going to say, ‘You’re crazy.’ Plus they’re going to keep mighty guarded. But the camera is a kind of license. A lot of people, they want to be paid that much attention and that’s a reasonable kind of attention to be paid”.(1)

Pet Project, is an ongoing photographic portrait project of strangers, taken in the tradition of Arbus, I enter into peoples lives and homes. I do not know these people until the moment I begin to set up for the shot, but during our time together I learn about them. I gather my subjects from the online community Craigslist, a website where you can buy, sell or rant about anything under the sun The ad reads: “Photographer to photograph you and your pets, in your home for free.”

Some of the subjects are found as I am walking down the street or sitting in a coffee shop. If they seem interesting, if the relationship between the owner and the pet excites me, I ask them to pose for me. Surprisingly, many of these strangers from the street contact me, invite me into their homes and the relationship begins. I see the chaos of their worlds from the inside overtaken by their love for animals, often too many to wrangle in a single shot.

Who are these people who invite a stranger who solicited them over the Internet or on the street into their homes? But then again, who am I to have the desire to do it? I am a voyeur who pleasures in the “sneak attack”, wearing the guise of the photographer and armed with a camera. They are exhibitionists who want someone to see their private worlds and their most treasured possession their pets.

(1) Arbus, Diane. Diane Arbus An Aperture Monograph. New York, NY: The Aperture Foundation, 1972. Page 1.

About Kathryn Mussallem

An exhibiting photographer and visual artist with work published and exhibited in Canada, the US, the UK and Europe. Recent group exhibitions include New York NY, Denver CO, Minneapolis MN, Saint Remy de Provence France, Leiden Netherlands, London UK, Calgary AB, Ottawa ON and Vancouver BC.

Winner of the Canadian National Prize at the 2016 Sony World Photography Awards. Recent solo exhibitions, Tattoos & Scrimshaw: the Art of the Sailor at the Vancouver Maritime Museum (2013), the Maritime Museum San Diego (2014), the Los Angeles Maritime Museum (2015) and the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum (2016). It’s a Sailors Life for Me exhibited at the Maritime Museum San Diego (2016-17).

Most recent solo exhibition Ship’s Company: the Canadian Navy at Work & Play exhibiting at the Vancouver Maritime Museum, 2019 to 2020.

Receiving a BFA (Photo) and a Master of Applied Arts in Visual Arts from Emily Carr University of Art + Design in Vancouver BC and a Master of Professional Studies in Digital Photography from the School of Visual Arts in New York NY.

Currently an instructor of photography, digital media and visual arts at Emily Carr University of Art + Design in Vancouver BC, Canada. [Official Website]



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