Friday, April 9, 2010

Mia Feinstein - Celebrity Dog Photographer - Pooch Paparazzo

Watch out pooches, Mia Feinstein is back in town.  You and your human may see her at any time in the course of your daily outings.   Mia of the graceful Mediterranean good looks and the shy smile, strolls and wanders, camera at the ready, looking for the next subject for her photographic library.

Mia has relocated to Cape Town after 16 years in London.    Whilst in London, she earned Pooch Paparazzo status, but her love of the craft started years before, when as an eleven-year old, she photographed her beloved Yorkie, Gucci, with a 35mm film camera.   Nowadays her cameras are the latest in high tech and many of  her subjects are the beloved and pampered pets of celebrities.

Incidentally, she has left her beloved Frankie, a miniature dachshund, behind in the U.K.   Quarantine laws make it very difficult to move pets from Britain to South Africa.  Frankie is now happily hunting rabbits in Scotland which is exactly what dachshunds with their short stubby legs are bred for.  All the better for crawling down rabbit holes.    He is featured in a photograph as a very classy gent in a tuxedo jacket, white shirt and black bow tie.

She has published two beautiful coffee table books; 'Pooches in Shades' and 'Andy Warhound Pup Art'.   Sexily packaged and presented, they now adorn coffee tables from Los Angeles to Cape Town.

I have come to interview Mia about her books, but find that it is impossible to discuss the books in isolation.  Her art surrounds everything that she does and collects, so I question her about the genesis of her career.


She studied History of Art, Art and Economics in a Foundation Year at St. Martin's Central School of Art and Design.   For years she has been involved with animal organisations and charities. She had a stand at Crufts, the famous dog show, where she showed her wonderfully eccentric and sometimes whacky pooch designs on greeting cards, cushions, footstools, deck chairs, cuddly hot water bottle covers and of course, her stunning photographs of dogs.   She has bags of talent and she has chutzpah.

It was at Crufts that her big break came.  A publisher from Pucci Books came onto her stand.   He loved her work and they arranged to meet to discuss a possible book.  He had already published a dog book and saw the possibilities in Mia's art.  Mia suggested Pooches in Shades and Andy Warhol styled photographs as ideas for books and the rest is history.  'Pooches in Shades' and 'Andy Warhound, Pup Art' were born.

'Pooches in Shades' consists of studies of dogs  wearing way- out, whacky sunglasses and sometimes even funnier doggles, dog goggles!  She manages to fit the eye apparel to each dog's personality so seamlessly that it seems quite natural for the dogs to wear shades   Incidentally, not all the dogs are beauties.  Mia loves all dogs and admits that she loves to photograph the funnier looking ones, the Pugs, the Bulldogs, the Schnauzers.

It obviously takes time and patience to pose a dog.  Mia describes how she spends hours, sometimes days, with subjects in their own environment.  She gains their trust with a soft and gentle approach making quirky, little sounds that only she and the dogs understand and so they bond.   She takes lots of casual shots until she finds one she considers good enough.  Mia never names or identifies any of the photographs in the books in order to protect the celebrity dogs and their celebrity owners.  

Simon Pegg has written a foreword  for Pooches in Shades.   He loves dogs and he loves sunglasses and has been collecting them for years, sunglasses that is.  He says in his foreword:"how happy was I then when I discovered that Mia Feinstein would be publishing a book of photographs combining two of my great loves. It is a joy when the universe throws two of your most disparate interests together and allows you to experience them in one place."   How cool is that?

Andy Warhound Pup Art is a marvellous collection of dog portraits inspired by Warhol's life and work.    He is reported to have said that he had never met a dog that he didn't like.   Mia certainly hasn't and she loves Andy Warhol's work and the Pop Art movement.    So it seemed natural to create a body of work inspired by the great man.   She gathered a collection of her dog photographs and then painstakingly worked to create the Warhol effect.  Using digital manipulation which could involve spending as much as 12 hours on each photograph, her Warhol dogs emerged triumphant.   A bold and audacious use of colour and shading  succeeds so well that one is hard put to find a significant difference between Mia's work and that of  her muse.   Elizabeth Hurley is quoted on the cover of Andy Warhound Pup Art as saying, "Mia's pictures are as good as Andy's Marilyns, Maos and Soup Cans - only $9 million cheaper."

I love the stories she tells of 'accosting' celebs ( I told you she had chutzpah) and of obtaining permission to photograph their beloved canines.  First she researches her subjects.  Then, if fate is kind, and it often is, she might just spot any one of them in and around London.  This is what happened with Jay Kay, lead singer of the band Jamiroquai.   She knew that he had two German Shepherds, so when she saw him going into a supermarket near where she lived in London, she waited until he came out and then boldly asked him if he had dogs!   'Yes, he had dogs' and 'yes' in answer to her next question, 'she could photograph them'   She photographed them at his house in the country.   As this was her first celebrity booking, she attributes this experience as the start of her pooch paparazzo career.   Many celebrity bookings were to follow, including Elizabeth Hurley's two chocolate and black Labradors and Perez Hilton's dog- child which caused him to declare proudly that "Mia made my Teddy look like the superstar that he is."  Steven Spielberg is one of her celebrity conquests.  Oh and Julian Macmahon, the sexy doctor from Nip Tuck.

I ask her for the story behind one of  her photographic compositions  - a black and white shot of a Dalmation in front of a vintage car.   She tells how she passed the dog tied to a lamppost outside a supermarket and went inside to find the owner.  "I'd like to photograph your dog" declared our intrepid canine explorer.  The Dalmation, its owner and Mia then went on a short walk-about.  She found the location she wanted in a nearby street where a vintage car was parked.   The result, a timeless study in black and white and a particular favourite of mine.

But Mia's work is not only about dogs!   She has prowled the major cities of the world, camera in hand, looking for the next perfect shot.   The result, a moody, brooding shot of a yellow New York taxi cab on a smoky street or a majestic scene of skyscrapers.  She lifts a fire hydrant out of context and it becomes a piece of art.   Her ambit is endless.   Yes, she photographs cats!  Fancy, furry felines and rescue cats whose eyes reach out to you begging you to love them.  She describes her encounters in animal shelters as 'heartrending' and 'gut-wrenching'.

She snapped Nelson Mandela in Trafalgar Square near South Africa House and is constantly on the lookout for natural unposed pictures of the Great and the Good.   Her flower pictures are a delight.   Inspired by her granny who loves flowers, she has styled and photographed wonderful flower pieces.  These she occasionally  adapts for use as  greeting cards .  She has photographed cupcakes at Lola's Kitchen in Mayfair and another fascinating Warhol - inspired work, a silk-screened poster of  Marmite bottles.  Marmite memorabilia fascinates her as does Coca Cola and she has any number of Coke trophies.

And if all that is not enough, she has also had exhibitions of her art.  She has shown her work at a private gallery in Knightsbridge in London and in Cape Town at Café Manhattan and at the Exposure Gallery in the Biscuit Mill.   Her next project will be a book on celebrity dogs in South Africa.   Now wouldn't that be something?

Mia's books are available at Exclusive Books in South Africa.  They are in many of the major book stores in the U.K. including Foyles, Selfridges, WH Smith, Amazon.co.uk and Waterstones.  They are available to buy in Spain, France, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Italy and Sweden.   In the U.S.A. you can find her books at Barnes and Noble, Amazon.com, MOMA and others.  Oprah's magazine 'O' has done a feature article on Mia's work as have several other magazines and newspapers in Britain and the U.S.


If anyone would like to know more about Mia's work, please contact me by leaving a comment at Back Chat or email me at les@leslieback.co.za .  I would love to hear from you.



It is important to note that I am not an agent for Mia and do not in any way benefit from the sale of her work.


2 comments:

Babette or Mia Poodle said...

We love this article but are sad no Poodle shots. We do love to pose for a photo or seven - as you well know, dear human in Bantry Bay.

"Pooch Paparazzo photographs Poodles": how is that for Poodleliteration?

Anonymous said...

Very nice article. I'm sure she would love my "Montana" even though he lives with just a plain ole human not a celebrity.