Sophie Gamand

Know who you’re Instagramming: Pit Bull Flower Power

Approx Reading Time-11When we heard Pit Bull Flower Power‘s Sophie Gamand was changing the lives of homeless dogs through the beauty of photography, we had to connect with her! (Sophie has also recently been nominated for a Shorty Award as Instagrammer of the year for the way she uses Instagram to help dogs get adopted. You can vote for her here.)

 

 

1. Tell us a bit about what compelled you to start the flower power series?

I had been volunteering as a photographer in animal shelters for a few years, but I always felt uneasy around pit bulls (especially the large, energetic ones). I was mauled by a Briard (a large herding dog) when I was about 12, and I think it left some deeply rooted apprehension in me. Plus I was fed lots of traumatic stories about pits from the media. In France, where I grew up, they are banned. In the US, where I live now, pit bulls have such a bad reputation that they are abused on a daily basis and hundred of thousands of them end up in shelters. There are so many of them, so many unwanted pit bulls, that America ends up euthanising between 800,000 and 1 million pit bull-type dogs every year. So I knew I wanted to do a project that would force me to face pit bulls and work with them, trying to better understand them, too. It’s easy to be a hater, but it’s a challenge to force yourself to face your fears, and see if you are open to another opinion about something, or someone. So I started thinking about ways to do a series with pit bulls. I wanted something different. I wanted to do it for myself, and to help the dogs get adopted, but also in a bigger way I was hoping to change the way we perceive them. Could art be the key to changing our perception of pit bulls, and ultimately improve their fate? It seemed to me pit bulls were most often represented in harsh environments, with chains and leather. So I took the opposite route and decided to photograph them in the most feminine way I could think of. I wanted them to look like your typical grandma dog. I thought: if this is the only image we know of them, are we still going to be afraid? And if we are no longer afraid of them, will they still attract bad owners that make them do bad things, feeding the myth that they are inherently dangerous?

2. What is the biggest misconception about pit bulls that drew you to act?

People think pit bulls are dangerous and dormant killers. They are called “evil” by the media. But that’s assuming dogs think and act like humans. They don’t! Pit bulls, like any other dog or animal, are a product of their upbringing, their environment, the care and training they get, their level of socialisation, and the way they are being treated. Most people don’t even know what a pit bull is. And they really shouldn’t, since it does not exist! “Pit bull” has become a symbol, a category where everything is mixed and deemed dangerous. Pit bull-type dogs suffer from those prejudices because they are judged only by their looks. “They have that type of jaw line, or those eyes? Then they must be a pit!!” In reality, not only are there many bully breeds that get confused with each other, but in shelters, most pit bulls have little to nothing to do with those bully breeds. The fear the media and some mal-intentioned people have instilled in the public is powerful. It is so deeply engrained that it will take a long, slow, quiet battle to overcome it. It’s as if people have been brainwashed to think these dogs are going to kill them. My series is a quiet, more subtle way, to advocate for life and the respect of all creatures. I am not loud, like other pit bull advocates out there. I don’t try to push anything on anyone. I simply offer an alternative to the official discourse around these dogs, inviting people to challenge themselves into thinking with their heart.

3. Why do you think people have changed their response to adopting these pit bulls, do you think it’s simply aesthetic or do you think you got to the heart of people?

Well, first, let me just clarify one thing: my Flower Power project is not about encouraging just anyone to adopt just any pit bull. Many of them are strong-willed and powerful dogs, and they are not dogs for everyone. So I am not here to say everyone should have a pit. I am here to remind that we euthanise millions of them for no reason other than our shortcomings and fears. And that’s crazy. That needs to be addressed. And by changing the way we see these dogs, I hope to open minds and hearts to a healthy debate. In that regard, I believe the series works. It worked on me! It worked on my husband! I get messages from around the world from people telling me they are more open now, and when they see a pit bull on the sidewalk, instead of switching sides they ask questions, they seek contact, and they want to understand. That’s my victory. Then of course, if one of my models finds his or her way home thanks to the images, that’s even better! Outside of Flower Power, my work is mostly about rescues. Whenever I hear that a photo led to an adoption, my heart sings. Flowers or not, it’s about that connection I am able to create. And that connection is established with the eyes, the smile, the lips, the soul that shines through. The flowers are a gimmick. The flowers are surprising so they make the images very shareable on social media, which expose the models to a larger audience of potential adopters. Thanks to my photos, the shelters have seen considerable increase in the amount of followers they have, which helps with adopting more animals, and faster, and fundraising better etc.

4. What I like about this campaign is that it takes a refreshing approach away from the distressing shock factor approach often seen on social media – yet it is more effective.

I think so too. I believe it is because I am not trying to tell people what to think, so there is no room for lies and manipulation. As an artist, my job is to offer my view on the world, and through my art, to evoke emotional responses. Your soul and your heart read the message, and it slowly impregnates your entire being, and then starts changing the way you think and the way you view things. That’s how art works. And that’s why art is so powerful. The truth is always dormant, somewhere deep in you, and art allows you to connect to your real truth. And these images, well, all they do is show beauty where beauty is. They show soul where soul is. Beauty and soul deserve our protection. We created these dogs, we fabricated their myth. We are responsible for them. Immensely.

Support Sophie’s initiatives by buying the Flower Power calendar.

Sophie also sells prints (people should contact her here for those).

Wet Dog is Sophie’s first book and it can be found here.

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You can follow Sophie here:

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Sophie Gamand

Sophie Gamand is an award-winning photographer and animal advocate living and working in New York. Since 2010 her work focuses on dogs and our relationship with them. Most of her models are shelter dogs in need of adoption. She is known for Wet Dog (her first book) and Pit Bull Flower Power (a series of pit bulls from shelters wearing flower crowns).

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