Chanan is arguably the preeminent cat photography team in the country. The name “Chanan” is a roundabout abbreviation and concatenation of the husband-wife duo’s first names, Richard and Nancy. Richard has been photographing cats as his primary occupation since 1976 (his entry into this improbable niche came by way of his mother, an avid cat breeder), and Nancy has assisted him for much of that time. Over the decades, Chanan have cultivated, and established themselves as the principal purveyors of, the favored portraiture aesthetic of cat breeders worldwide… Chanan’s characteristic style places the subject in front of a jewel tone backdrop, and captures it in a wide-eyedstateofalert. I had seen Chanan’s photos before, but I had never witnessed their process until 2008, when I encountered Richard working solo at the CFA Iams Cat Championship in Madison Square Garden. I watched him for nearly an hour, mesmerized, as he shot three ethereal show cats one after another. His left hand manipulated toys from an extensive arsenal of strings, feathers, and sticks, goading the cats into positions resembling poses, while his right hand snapped photos during the narrow windows of photogenicity. Sometimes he’d ask the owner for assistance (“Pet him again… now stand over there and call his name…”), and occasionally he’d emit a loud, sudden trilling noise to capture a cat’s attention. Eminently professional and efficient, Richard also seemed to maintain a constant sense of amusement about the whole thing, even after more than thirty years in the biz.
“When I was a kid, everybody wanted to be a baseball player or firefighter. Well, I knew that I wanted to be a depressed French cat online. I just had to wait for them to invent the Internet,” Braden joked in an interview. “But no, really, everybody at film school had grandiose ideas of what they wanted to become, how they wanted to direct the next ‘Citizen Kane’ or ‘Easy Rider.’ I wasn’t quite that precious about it. … I learned the technical aspects that you could use to shoot anything. Just so happens I am making films about a cat.”