I recently had an interview with Beautystreams, a website based in Paris, France that reports on emerging trends in the beauty and packaging industries. The piece ran in their ‘Experts’ column which is a “unique look into the minds of international specialists.” I wax poetic on pet photography, design and trends in the industry…
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Celebrity pet photographer Grace Chon gives us a glimpse of her specialized sector and shares her insights on the growing pet grooming industry.
BEAUTYSTREAMS: What is your background? How did you become a celebrity pet photographer?
My background is in advertising - I received my Masters of Advertising in Art Direction at the Academy of Art in San Francisco and spent a number of years working in the industry. Advertising is a notoriously stressful and competitive job, and I needed to find something to do on the weekends to help me unwind. I bought my first DSLR and started taking headshots of homeless dogs to help them get adopted. A few months later I decided to start a weekend pet photography business and it just took off! I was working round 70 hours a week at my day job, and working nights and weekends on my photography. In 2008, 9 months after starting my business, I quit my advertising job to focus on pet photography full-time. Celebrity pet photography started to happen around a year after I started in 2009. My first big client was Perez Hilton and things snowballed from there.
B: Who are your famous clients and their pets?
Some of my other celebrity clients are: Anna Faris and her husband Chris Pratt who is starring in NBC’s “Parks and Recreation” - they have 3 goofy pugs, Margaret Cho who has 2 rescue dogs named Bronwyn and Gudrun, and Chelsea Handler who has a rescue dog named Chunk.
B: Are the pets themselves becoming celebrities in the media?
Perez Hilton’s dog Teddy Hilton is a big dog-celebrity - he even has his own blog now. Chelsea Handler talks about her dog Chunk a lot on her show as well.
B: Why do you feel there is a growing demand for pet services?
I think a lot of people these days are opting to have children later in life, and while they’re focusing on their careers they bring pets into their lives. Pets are increasingly being considered as family members, especially in urban areas. Where pets were once relegated to the backyard or denied access to the entire home, now they are cherished as much as children. People care a lot more about the quality of life their pets have. Also, we are living in an increasingly design savvy culture. There is so much more emphasis on good design and aesthetics these days, and it’s not just something that designers or creative types care about. This has definitely influenced pet photography and the entire pet industry. When I started, I wanted to create images that were the antithesis of what you might imagine when you hear the words ‘pet photography’ - images that weren’t stock or cheesy, with animals posing in studio with bad lighting and props. I wanted to create images that I would want of my own pets - images that were more modern, fresh, and editorial.
B: What types of services and products are popular for pets?
Because people care so much more now about the quality of life for their pets, I think high quality food, treats, and well-designed clothing and accessories. Most of my clients like to have nicer accessories for their pets, like quality leashes and collars (rather than a plain nylon leash and collar set you could get at a chain store). I have so many nice leashes and collars for my dogs I’ve lost count. The designer clothing is definitely something that’s popular with small dog owners. I once had a shoot with a client who had $300 custom designed dresses for her dog - and the dog’s wardrobe took up half of her owner’s closet!
B: Do you think there is a boom in pet beauty with special salons and products like shampoos, conditioners, and moisturizers?
Definitely! The pet economy actually flourished during the recession that started in 2008 and there are a lot of high-end dog products like perfumes, shampoos, conditioners, and nail polishes on the market now. All-natural and green are also big trends in pet beauty.
B: Do you feel that pet care and devotion differs in the US as compared to other regions of the world?
It’s hard for me to say since I’m not that aware of how pets are cared for in other countries. But I can say that I’ve been interviewed on camera by a reporter from Paris who was doing a story on the way dogs are cared for in Los Angeles, and a documentary film crew from Denmark and Sweden who was making a film on a similar topic. It seems that people in other countries are fascinated by the way Americans care for their dogs, especially in LA!
B: What challenges do you face in your job?
I started my business in the fall of 2008, when the US economy was experiencing one of the worst economic meltdowns since the Great Depression. People at work thought I was crazy to quit my job and plunge into the unknown of self employment, especially because I had just launched a successful ad campaign. Starting a business in such economic uncertainty was definitely a challenge, as well as growing my brand in an extremely competitive pet photography market. Since I’ve started in 2008 the pet photography market has exploded - in 2008 I counted around 10 pet photographers in LA and now there are over 70 in the area. Creating consistently interesting work and standing out from the crowd is one of the challenges of working in such a competitive market.
B: How do you see the pet industry evolving in the future?
I think it will continue on this trend of better quality foods and well-designed toys and products for awhile. Big food companies that typically don’t put emphasis on high-quality are releasing ‘organic’ and natural lines and Martha Stewart recently launched her own line of products at Petsmart. As our culture continues to put emphasis on good design, eco-friendliness and ‘all natural’ products, I think the pet industry will continue to do the same.