PetaPixel

Photos from the Early 1900s Prove LOLcats Were Around Long Before the Internet

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If you thought cat photos were something new, you’d not only be greatly mistaken, you’d be stepping all over the life’s work of one Mr. Harry Whittier Frees.

Born in 1879, this American photographer made his fortune taking photographs of cute kittens and puppies dressed up in human clothes and posed in human environments, which he then turned into postcards, calendars and even children’s books.

These predecessors to the well-known LOLcats memes are as adorable as they are funny, but it didn’t come easy. As explained in his book, Animal Land on the Air, these photographs, “represent an almost inconceivable amount of patience, care and kind attention, as well as a very large number of spoiled films.”

Later in the book, he goes on to say that, “these unusual photographs of real animals were made possible only by patient, unfailing kindness on the part of the photographer at all times.”

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As every photographer has experienced personally, Frees said that some subjects were more photogenic than others:

Rabbits are the easiest to photograph in costume, but incapable of taking many ”human“ parts. Puppies are tractable when rightly understood, but the kitten is the most versatile animal actor, and possesses the greatest variety of appeal.

The pig is the most difficult to deal with, but effective on occasion. The best period of young animal models is a short one, being when they are from six to ten weeks of age. An interesting fact is that a kitten’s attention is best held through the sense of sight, while that of a puppy is most influenced by sound, and equally readily distracted by it. The native reasoning powers of young animals are, moreover, quite as pronounced as those of the human species, and relatively far surer.

According to an article over on One More River, Frees’ animal photos were taken at as low of a shutter speed at 1/5th of a second, meaning that as many as two-thirds of his negatives turned out as useless blurs. And while he seems to be the owner of quite a few cute animals, it’s said that many of his subjects were borrowed from friends, neighbors, breeders and pet shops.

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Although there doesn’t seem to be any conclusive evidence either way, quite a few resources available online say that at least some of his subjects had to be taxidermy pieces. This, of course, would greatly diminish the effort needed to capture such a photograph. So, for now, we suggest you enjoy his photography and take his words with at least a pinch of salt.

If you’re wondering what type of products Frees sold from these photographs, you can actually see for yourself first hand, as you can purchase a few of his books over on Amazon.

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Many of Frees’ photographs are available over on the Library of Congress’ website, so if you’d like to see more, feel free to head on over there and dive through 32 pages of animal adorableness.

For our part, we’ll leave you with a selection of our favorites:

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(via The Atlantic)


Image credits: Photographs by Harry Whittier Frees courtesy of Library of Congress


 
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  • OtterMatt

    If those animals aren’t stuffed, then they’re stoned out of their gourds. Good luck getting a cat to hold a pose long enough for a DSLR, never mind a 1900s era camera.

  • oscar

    They should had use a very strong powder light. The animals are alive, you can see that in their eyes.

  • elizabeth anderson

    Actually you can tell they are NOT taxidermied, there is one photo I see all the time and you can tell. The eyes are glass and lifeless. These eyes still have expression and catch the light differently than glass would. The outfits they are in are very stiff with wires and such. So they could move their heads but not the bodies and appendages.

  • elizabeth anderson

    Wrong. They are most definitely alive.

  • http://lois-bryan.artistwebsites.com/ Lois Bryan

    I have a children’s book with many of these images … in color, so not sure if they were colored after the original shots were taken or not. It was a favorite of mine as a child (and no, I wasn’t a child in the early 1900s). Years later, I shuddered to think what the photographer had to do to the little kittens and puppies to get them to hold those poses. My assumption has always been that the backdrop has a slit in it, and someone was behind the curtain, so to speak, holding the critters in place. Gently, I hope.

  • elizabeth anderson

    They were in the clothes, but they had wires and stuff to make them stiff and not be able to move. Just the animals heads could.

  • well_finished

    All of these animals look so unhappy. Not cute, just sad.

  • Kaani

    I´m getting infuriated looking at these photos.

    “these unusual photographs of real animals were made possible only by patient, unfailing indifference towards animals on the part of the photographer at all times.”

  • http://www.brianspencer.com B Spencer

    This is just sad.

  • http://www.brianspencer.com B Spencer

    Agreed

  • Jacob Dole

    +1 I was going to send them to the Mrs (she loves cats) but they look abused.