Our pets have the unique ability to make us laugh and make us cry; they show us compassion and teach us what it means to love. It’s no wonder, then, that we consider them a part of the family.
Whether we are feline fanatics, dog devotees, avian aficionados, or equine enthusiasts, our pets are an integral part of our lives. Marcia Leeder has a profound understanding of how animals and humans relate to one another and has combined her passion for animals and her talent for photography to capture the special bond that is forged between pet and owner. With a diverse portfolio that includes animal, child, family, and performance photography, Leeder has focused much of her recent work on animal portraiture. “I love the connection that families have with one another, as well as the connections we have with our animals,” says Leeder. “They will always be considered part of the family.” It’s these unique bonds that Leeder says she appreciates being able to capture.
While she began photographing animals at a young age, it wasn’t until Leeder was grown that a chance meeting on the streets of Morocco would inspire a return to her childhood hobby and an eventual career change. “Behind every artist is a muse and, for me, that muse came in the form of a dirty street puppy that found me while I was working on a film in Morocco, in 2002,” says Leeder. “I brought her (Tichka) home to Canada with me and she sparked my love of photography again.” Leeder says that her creativity had been stifled for years and it was liberating to return to what she loved doing as a child. “I have always felt a strong connection to animals, so photographing them was a natural choice,” says Leeder. She began photographing Tichka with a digital point and shoot, and later transitioned to a digital single lens reflex (DSLR), which she would use to build up her portfolio.
After considering her photography subjects, Leeder realized that she gained the most satisfaction from working with animals. “To be able to meet their approval makes me feel like a good person,” says Leeder. “Animals teach me so much about myself and how I live my life. They approach everything with innocence, love, and humility.”
Leeder cherishes the time she spends with her clients’ pets, describing this time as “pure joy,” but says she derives much of her inspiration from her own animal family. Her clan, called the Ginger Gang, is composed of two dogs (Tichka and Little Dude) and two cats (Cameron and Archie), all of whom are rescues. “I love to watch how they interact with each other. I photograph them almost every day,” says Leeder. “Just when I think I’ve seen it all, they do something that surprises me … usually sending me into hysterical laughter. They fill my heart with so much love, pride, and joy.”
Given the unpredictable nature of her subjects, Leeder stays flexible and takes a lighthearted approach to her photo shoots. “I am not afraid to make a fool of myself to get the shot, whether it’s making a ridiculous noise or rolling around on the ground. I do what it takes and I love that my clients laugh along with me.” Leeder embraces the humour that working with animals brings and takes away many memorable moments from each portrait session. “I am often laughing until my sides ache. That’s the fun of working with animals, you just never know what to expect.” Leeder posts her outtakes, funny moments, and session adventures daily to her Facebook page.
Leeder photographs public portrait events and custom on-location portrait sessions. Unlike individual portrait sessions where she learns about the animal in advance, the high-volume portrait events challenge Leeder’s improvisational skills. “I don’t have the same preparation time,” she says. “I meet the animal on the spot and have to gauge their personality and figure out how to work with them in a way that is not going to add to their stress of being in a new environment.”
Both shooting scenarios have taught her to embrace each animal’s individual personality and have yielded interesting results; however, Leeder enjoys spending more time with each animal and feels the custom on-location sessions help to feed her artistic expression as well as capture more of their unique characteristics. She says that often some of her favourite shots, whatever the setting, are what some might consider to be outtakes. “Those are the ones that my clients choose to display on their walls and I love that.”
Much of the satisfaction that Leeder derives from her work comes from watching her clients’ reactions. “When I show my clients the images from their [pet’s] session and they cry happy tears, I know I’ve done my job.” Leeder’s motivation stems from an understanding of the importance of pets in our lives. “Unfortunately, they are not with us forever,” she says. “If I can capture a piece of their soul in a photograph, it helps their memory live on.”
Leeder’s compassion for her animals extends to her philanthropic activities. All proceeds from the print sales of her portrait events are donated to a rescue group of her clients’ choosing. She is also a member of HeARTs Speak, a not-for-profit organization whose mission is to enact social change by uniting the individual efforts of animal artists and animal rescues (www.heartsspeak.org). As a member, she volunteers her time and talents to give animals living in rescues or shelters professional photo sessions to help increase their chances of being adopted.
This article originally appeared in the Creatures Great and Small, Spring/Summer Issue - 2013. Get it in PRINT HERE.