Cat show portrait photographer Larry Johnson is renowned amongst the cat fancier community
24th November 2019 by Will Stewart
Week in week out for over 20 years, cat show portrait photographer Larry Johnson has been taking feline portraits at cat shows all over the US, and even further abroad. An eye into a world that even the director of this film, Mark Zemel, didn’t know about until he me Larry. Larry is a passionate portrait photographer, and understands how to draw the personalities out of the cats in a photo shoot, producing photos that delight the owners. A wonderful story
MadeGood – Please give me some background on yourself as a film maker, is this a typical example of your work. Camera is credited with yourself and one other, Tyler Jensen. Please tell me a bit about your working dynamic.
Mark – Tyler Jensen and I have been good friends for a long time. We worked together on another documentary I made about Big Freedia for Pitchfork. It was just the two of us in New Orleans for a week and we really got along creatively and as friends. We did another little piece about art frame makers for The New Yorker. I shot a few of his music videos… We just do a lot of stuff together. He’s actually on the film festival circuit right now for his new documentary Scream, Queen: My Nightmare On Elm Street, which is really really good! I helped shoot a bunch for that project, so we trade back and forth. He’s one of my favourite people to work with.
MadeGood – How did you find out about Larry Johnson, and what made you want to make a film about him? He’s a fantastic character, you must have felt you hit the jackpot when you found him! Was he keen to be involved in the film?
Mark – I met Larry at a cat show in Stamford CT about 6 years ago. It was actually on my birthday. I’d never been to a cat show before so my then-girlfriend, now-wife Laura, brought me. Larry had literally pitched a camping tent in the middle of this convention hall and was shooting cat photos inside of it. When I first met him, I had no idea that anyone did what he does (cat portraiture). So I was pretty interested in watching him photograph the cats. He really had a way with them, and the images were really cool. Then we started chatting and it went from there. Moral of the story: It was a great birthday.
MadeGood – Larry is very experienced and passionate about his job. There’s a scene towards the end where’s he’s playing with/taking pictures of a couple of cats, and nails a couple of photos! As a film maker, do you feel like you were able to learn anything from him?
Mark – Larry’s cat portraits are amazing. The images he creates are really elegant and glamorous. But what’s most striking about them is that they also capture the warmth and personality of the cats. Larry has fun with them and they have fun with him and it translates to the photographs. And for me, hanging out with him was great because it was kind of the best way to meet the cats. They weren’t on stage or in their crates, they were hanging out with Larry, goofing around and striking poses. It’s a great lesson in building rapport with your subjects. One of the hardest things to do as a filmmaker is to balance the needs of the film with the invasive nature of it. You have to build a trust, and Larry was exceptional at that.
MadeGood – From watching the film it seems like the owners of the cats at these cat shows are overwhelmingly female. Although obviously the judge you featured was a man. Please tell me a bit about your impressions of the owners.
Mark – The owners at the cat shows were very friendly. I got a few sideways glances at first, but soon people knew what I was up to and they were happy to talk with me.
MadeGood – What are you working on next?
Mark – I have a project that I’ve been slooowly working on for the last couple of years called New Jersey Knights. It’s a behind the scenes documentary about the Medieval Times castle in Lyndhurst, NJ. I got to hang out with the Knights and the show cast for a few days and really see how they create such an epic spectacle. I just need to finish editing it!
MadeGood – Thanks so much for taking the time to answer my questions Mark. Your film about the castle sounds fascinating, can’t wait to see it!