Anyone working in photography knows it takes a special skill (and a lot of patience) to photograph kids or animals. Their attention span is short, they tend to be very agile and do not always take direction well. Isabella Rozendaal has managed to master the art of animal photography. But how does one become ‘Amsterdam’s official pet photographer’, as crowned by The Guardian?

(slideshow met foto’s invoegen van On Loving Animals?)

Isabella’s interest in capturing animals was first triggered when she first visited a dog show during the last year of art school, back in 2006. Just a year later she released her first (?) photo book ‘On Loving Animals’ (2007), which shows a documentation of animals at breeders, dog shows, veterinarian offices and in their homes. Some cats had been ‘loved’ so much that they are overfed, making them obese, so they cannot jump on their owner’s lap any more. And in some dogs overbreeding has led to detrimental health effects. Our extreme love for pets has also given rise to an industry of pet-based services, such as acupuncture, cremation and pet cemeteries, the existence of which says a lot about the human condition, according to Isabella. Her study of the relationship between man and animal would eventually lead to an extensive decade-long project on hunting and its cultural history, but Isabella never lost her fascination with the love for pets.

(foto’s van Animalia invoegen)

In 2016 she approached the Amsterdam city archive with an idea for a project: capturing the pets of Amsterdam. The city has a long history of animals being kept for companionship, but there was hardly any mention in the archives. Isabella photographed over a hundred animals, ranging from cats and dogs to pigs and ferrets as well as a hedgehog and even a large African snail. The project, which was very well-received, resulted in a weekly column for Het Parool, a travelling exhibition and the photobook ‘Animalia’ (2017). When browsing through one notices the owners are often at the edge of the image or out of view. Yet in a way a pet portrait is simultaneously a portrait of its owner, Isabella reasons. How the animal is groomed or dressed, what their domestic habitat looks like can speak volumes.

(foto’s van Isabella met de dieren invoegen)

So how do you take a good portrait of a pet? “I prefer not to photograph people and animals simultaneously. I often notice other photographers shooting animals and no matter how well they light them up and create a beautiful composition, you don’t see them really connect with the animal as they are working mostly on taking a photograph. I really focus on my connection with the animal. When I come in, I never start shooting straight away. Some dogs are really cheerful and want to play straight away, but some are very shy and need to adjust to my presence, so I’ll place myself low on the ground, waiting for them to approach me. And I always bring toys, snacks and a squeaking ball."

But does Isabella have a pet of her own? “The more I photographed pets, the more I became aware of the massive responsibility. Not just for now, but it could be for decades. I have seen people get overwhelmed and caught off guard by high veterinarian bills. I don’t know what my life will look like in ten years. But when I’m older.. for sure.”