I Hired an Esteemed Cat Photographer to Take Photos of My Cat

Where did your last $240.17 go, William Foster?

OVERALL ALLOCATION

 

ITEMIZED LIST

$3, large coffee at Oui Presse. Cream, no sugar, to go. $2.50 plus $0.50 tip.

$5.99, 6 oz. center-cut wild Coho salmon, for my cat. 1

$1, small bag of catnip.

$2.50, one cheese slice at Sizzle Pie. 2

$100, home session with Chanan. 3

$8.48, Chile relleno plate plus one mandarin Jarritos, at a middling but convenient Mexican restaurant.

$57.20, two tickets to Jon Lovitz at Helium Comedy Club. $25 each, plus $7.20 “handling fee.” Funny guy!

$12, two Mirror Pond Pale Ales. $4.50 each plus $3 tip, to fulfill the two-drink minimum.

$50, 90-minute session in a sensory deprivation tank, the following morning.

 

 

1 Back in The Billfold’s early youth, Logan posted this bit of asinine piffle. Although I took some liberties with the truth in my email (cats can’t play basketball; they have no regard for rules and systems, and no capacity for delayed gratification), I was in fact looking for a cat to adopt. I visited Stevie B at the Oregon Humane Society, but he was too riddled with health problems for me, still unsettled in a new city and job, and living alone in a studio apartment, to attend to.

In the comment section, I also expressed interest in a cat named Mr. Biscuit. Mr. Biscuit was clearly a desirable feline, but after my disheartening meeting with Stevie B, I realized that I wasn’t quite ready to adopt. Six months later, though, when I was better situated in my home and job, kitty-cat fever again welled up within me, and by the hand of fate Mr. Biscuit was still available at the adoption center.

Mr. Biscuit is a 12-year-old, purebred Blue Point Himalayan. He has papers certifying his lineage: “Sire: MR SASSY MIST Dam: CEDES CHOICE CARAMEL.” He’s also a tripod, having lost his rear port side leg to a tumor in 2010. Never in all my cat-fancying dreams did I intend to own anything but a common mutt, but a cat in need is indeed a cat in need, and I took the poor beast under my wing.

I bought the salmon in the above line item for Mr. Biscuit’s birthday meal. His twelfth birthday was, incidentally, the day after the events of this post. I baked the salmon, garnished his portion with catnip, and ate mine alongside him.
^Back

 

2 Sizzle Pie is convenient to the on-ramp to I-84E, which I took to the Red Lion Hotel at Portland International Airport to pick up Chanan.

Chanan is arguably the preeminent cat photography team in the country. The name “Chanan” is a roundabout abbreviation and concatenation of the husband-wife duo’s first names, Richard and Nancy. Richard has been photographing cats as his primary occupation since 1976 (his entry into this improbable niche came by way of his mother, an avid cat breeder), and Nancy has assisted him for much of that time. Over the decades, Chanan have cultivated, and established themselves as the principal purveyors of, the favored portraiture aesthetic of cat breeders worldwide.

If you’ve ever been to a cat show, you may have seen Chanan in action. They’re almost constantly on the road, traveling to shows around the U.S. and occasionally in Japan and Europe, and their schedule is usually booked over a year in advance. If you’ve ever perused cat breeder web sites, then you’ve probably seen their work, the ubiquity of which testifies to their demand in the breeder community. The Cat Fancier’s Association features Chanan’s photos in their online breed profiles, and other cat photographers seem to imitate their style (of course, Chanan’s prominent signature precludes any doubt as to a portrait’s provenance). In this world, Chanan is king of the hill.

Chanan’s characteristic style places the subject in front of a jewel tone backdrop, and captures it in a wide-eyed state of alert. I had seen Chanan’s photos before, but I had never witnessed their process until 2008, when I encountered Richard working solo at the CFA Iams Cat Championship in Madison Square Garden. I watched him for nearly an hour, mesmerized, as he shot three ethereal show cats one after another. His left hand manipulated toys from an extensive arsenal of strings, feathers, and sticks, goading the cats into positions resembling poses, while his right hand snapped photos during the narrow windows of photogenicity. Sometimes he’d ask the owner for assistance (“Pet him again… now stand over there and call his name…”), and occasionally he’d emit a loud, sudden trilling noise to capture a cat’s attention. Eminently professional and efficient, Richard also seemed to maintain a constant sense of amusement about the whole thing, even after more than thirty years in the biz.

Breeders comprise the majority of Chanan’s customer base. For them, a Chanan photograph is a practical investment that they use to showcase their animals. But, as advertised on Chanan’s web site, home sessions are available to anyone willing to pay for it. Mr. Biscuit is the first cat I’ve owned as an independent adult, and with him I finally had an opportunity to indulge my longtime fascination with Chanan. I checked their schedule, saw that they were due to be in the Portland area, and emailed them to book a “type (A) session.” Richard replied that he would arrive at PDX at noon on a Friday, and that he was free until the show the following morning. We set the date, and I scheduled the day off from work.

When the day came, I arrived at the airport hotel, cheese pizza in my belly, to find Richard sans Nancy. It turned out that he’s been working the show circuit alone since his house was robbed just over a year ago, which he blames on having posted their home address and schedule online. I drove him back to my apartment to set up for the shoot, and he merrily talked cat shop the whole way there.
^Back

 

Mr. Biscuit is timid around strangers, and even more so when the stranger is accompanied by a large pile of photography equipment. It took a substantial amount of catnip, treats, and cooing to coax him out from beneath the couch, and even then he refused to cooperate with our agenda.

Richard pulled out all his tricks, but to little avail. He relied on me to comfort Mr. Biscuit, but under his close direction: “Pet him… again… Do you have canned food? Go get a can and stand behind me… wait… now open the can… oh! better grab him… give him some food from the can… now put another bite in front of his face, but pull it away NOW… try again… uh oh, go grab him… give him a good petting… let’s try the catnip again,” and so on.

Richard only charged me $100 for the session because, in his words, “Mr. Biscuit is the worst subject I’ve ever had, aside from that one tabby in San Diego. I might not have a single usable shot here.”

Chanan’s trash is my treasure:

 

William Foster lives in Portland, Oregon.

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58 Comments / Post A Comment

Bill Fostex (#573)

I mistakenly categorized the salmon as a “Cat Photographer” expense when it should have been filed under “Other.” Also, I left a $1 tip at Sizzle Pie, but forgot to include it here because it wasn’t reflected in the receipt. So, adjust the numbers accordingly if you’re so inclined. I hope this personal finance blog post was useful and edifying.

DickensianCat (#971)

@Bill Fostex I am tempted to hire Chanan, but first I must know; how many wallet-sized shots of Mr. Biscuit did you buy for trading? HOW MANY, BILL!?

Bill Fostex (#573)

@DickensianCat Chanan sent physical prints in the mail — a 4×6 and a wallet-size of all 80-some shots — along with an order form like you get (or got? I don’t know how it works nowadays) for your high school yearbook pictures. So, I’m probably going to get one of the wonky ones in a large size to hang on my wall.

highjump (#39)

@Bill Fostex FWIW, side-eye on the couch with books is my favorite and I think it would be beautiful in any space in a 16×20 size at least.

OllyOlly (#669)

This was the best $100 you ever spent, trust me. I think how difficult it was for me to stifle laughs over these amazing photographs would make this session worth even more. What an amazing animal.

omgkitties (#206)

@OllyOlly I couldn’t stifle my laughter, and I’m on the reference desk right now. Straight up LOLing at the library.

@omgkitties I am also on the reference desk right now, and quietly peeing myself.

cawcawphony (#2,990)

@OllyOlly I am luckily at my desk and not on the desk, but I did chortle rather loudly. If my co-workers new I was looking at cat pics they’d be all over me.

faustbanana (#2,376)

File under: Not Piffle
Sub-category: Important Work
Sub-sub-category: Mr. Biscuit Photographs, Backstories of

emilies (#956)

We’re going to see a lot more uses of the “Mr. Biscuit” tag on this website.

OMG those pictures. I love it and now really want professional cat photos of my former feral street cat.

skyisfalling (#3,769)

Oh, I laughed so hard when I got to the first picture. And then the second, and the third. That is a very expressive cat.

honey cowl (#1,510)

This is the besssttttttt! I love William Foster! Please become the Billfold’s third co-editor. Right meow.

You know you’ve got a good story when a trip to the sensory deprivation tank is completely glossed over and ignored and the reader doesn’t care.

joyballz (#2,000)

@stuffisthings I’ve looked at the pictures enough times now (10+). Can we talk about the tank?

Lily Rowan (#70)

@stuffisthings I CARE! I need to go to one of those things. But then I remembered reading that piece on the Awl, and decided I have enough information on that.

joyballz (#2,000)

@Lily Rowan I think I’d still enjoy it.

Lily Rowan (#70)

@joyballz And now there’s this article! I really need to find me one of these, and it seems like they may be Coming Back?

mlle.gateau (#417)

@Lily Rowan I have a theory that they are Coming Back specifically because they’ve re-released Frasier on NetflixInstant. MARIS!

TheDilettantista (#1,255)

Can’t. Stop. Laughing.

This is the best. Everything about this is the best.

Long live Mr. Biscuit.

Madeline Shoes (#1,324)

@TheDilettantista this might be the best thing I’ve seen on the internet all day, INCLUDING the new AD trailer (sorry, Bluths). I literally ran to the bathroom so I wouldn’t arouse suspicion in my cubicle.

LookUponMyWorks (#2,616)

dying

You know, I was wondering whatever happened to Stevie B and his underbite but I didn’t want to ask lest I be seen as a Stevie B stalker.

brb, changing name to Mr. Sassy Mist.

@SarcasticFringehead No but seriously, how weird is it to put portraits of someone else’s cat as your desktop background?

joyballz (#2,000)

I want all of these pictures to greet me each morning. I hope I dream about them tonight.

City_Dater (#565)

Mr. Biscuit is beyond enchanting — any one of these portraits would be the best holiday card ever.

Bill Fostex (#573)

Two bonus shots: 1 and 2

joyballz (#2,000)

@Bill Fostex you are too kind. so much hair shed! how do you handle it?!?

Lily Rowan (#70)

@Bill Fostex Your cat may literally be the best cat ever.

sheistolerable (#2,382)

@Bill Fostex #2 is my favorite of all!

cmcm (#267)

I’ve had this photo as my iPhone wallpaper for ages, but I think I might change it to ‘Unimpressed Mr Biscuit #2′ because it is truly a work of art.

moreteawesley (#545)

THOSE PICTURES! Oh my god, I seriously laughed so hard I almost cried. And I’m at work! When I first started reading I thought the top cat was Mr. Biscuit, but no, Mr. Biscuit is so, so much better than that. The second picture needs to be blown up on canvas and framed in something gold and ornate.

sunflowernut (#1,638)

THESE PICTURES ARE AMAZING. I don’t know what that guy was talking about.

3jane (#645)

Well I found my social media profile pictures for the next 300 years.

KimO (#2,021)

This is the best thing I’ve seen on the Internet all year. Maybe ever.

womb bat (#3,498)

My kingdom for a glimpse of the photo session of that one tabby in San Diego.

Cdub (#2,125)

Omg! I totally know that sensory deprivation tank place! I was walking in Portland the other day and I grabbed a brochure and was like, whaaaat? (Unless there are more than one sensory deprivation tank places I portland which honestly would not surprise me) I think I would 100% FREAK OUT if I went into one of those tanks. What did you think of it?? Did you go into a dream like trance like the brochure promised?

sheistolerable (#2,382)

ahahahaha! Priceless!

Blondsak (#2,299)

Your cat displays a remarkable likeness to Orson Welles:

Compare to Image #3:
Mr.

Blondsak (#2,299)

@Blondsak And image #2:

Mr.

Blondsak (#2,299)

@Blondsak Actually this is a better #3:
Mr.

caroline@twitter (#3,901)

BEST POST EVER. I seriously laughed out loud at those pictures! I am in love with Mr. Biscuit!

breccia (#3,904)

that one tabby in san diego

oh my god this is the best post ever

PomoFrannyGlass (#3,909)

William Foster is there a Twitter account where we may follow your and Mr. Biscuit’s foibles?

Kay (#3,911)

What a great post, I think Chanan captured Mr. Biscuit perfectly, he is a gorgeous kitty.

frenz.lo (#455)

I shared this with my whole cat lady group. No reactions yet. I worry they will find it too flippant. I am dying, though.

kissy ham (#3,914)

@Bill Fostex do you need a girlfriend I am asking for a friend!

You are literally my favorite person on earth, and Mr. Biscuit is my favorite cat, second only to my own Captain Buffington.

sariberry (#4,420)

Are there more? Please tell us there are more.

Bill Fostex (#573)

@sariberry

sariberry (#4,420)

@Bill Fostex You made my new year’s

andnowlights (#2,902)

Oh no. I am trying so hard to not crack up at my desk since one of my bosses did actually show up today. Choking on laughter. This is amazing.

ladydee (#2,825)

This is my favoritest Billfold post ever. Glad to see it pop back up to close out this year. Mr. Biscuit + Chanan forever.

LookUponMyWorks (#2,616)

Still probably my fave Billfold piece ever.

What a great post, I think Chanan captured Mr. Biscuit perfectly, he is a gorgeous kitty.buy lol elo boost

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