Sunday, January 08, 2006

harry whittier frees

It was while I was doing my Xmas shopping that I stumbled across this book featuring the photography of Harry W Frees.


There seems to have been something of a resurgence of dressing animals in clothes lately, for example here and here and here and here (although I'm not sure if that last one really counts).
Harry Frees' pioneered the art - his career in animal photography took off at the turn of the 20th century when his pictures first appeared on novelty postcards and calendars. Often using his own cats, Rags and Fluff, as well as the pets (dogs, pigs, rabbits & birds) of his friends and neighbours, he spent many painstaking hours setting up and photographing the scenes.


Frees utilised specially designed outfits, sewn by his mother, to hold the animals in standing poses, and as time went on, his props and scenarios became more and more elaborate. His work was made into story books for children, some of which he wrote himself. These books continued to be published after his death in 1953, with some of his pictures being colourized for the modern market.






There's something incredibly woeful and dark about these portraits, which to my mind makes them all the more fascinating, because I imagine that the intention of the artist was quite the opposite. That something created to bring joy to children could eventually become so amusingly unacceptable and mildly disturbing is surely one of the more interesting aspects of how the evolution of social convention can alter the way we perceive an image.

10 comments:

  1. They are so beautifully grim. Like a car crash or Paris Hilton...you don't want to look but can't help staring.

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  2. those poor animals. some of those pix are downright creepy esp that colored cat one EEK

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  3. I guess I'm somewhat relieved to learn he used his pets and that they were apparently alive at the time...I had a reprint of one of those books when I was a kid, and I always wondered if the guy was dressing up taxidermized kittens and puppies....still, as an adult, I find the pictures disturbing.

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  4. Look for Robert Wegmans weimeraner art - it's slightly less wierd when the artist uses big, unfluffy dogs. He does videos, too - "The Hardy Boys" is the best!

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  5. I remember these in a book when I was little!! (I was born in '57) I looked at it for hours and hours. (wonder where it is now....)

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  6. I grew up with these as hand me downs from my grandmother. I love these books! I still bring them out to show people at dinner parties, and they make everyone ooh and awe like little kids again. They should be made available again, because little kids love them.

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  7. I loved these books as a wee girl! (born in '67) I think they show an innocent love and appreciation by Mr. Frees for his fuzzy subjects. And I don't think his neighbors would have allowed him to continue borrowing their pets if he had not been sweet to them. Thanks for reminding me of wonderful times reading Yip and Yap!

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  8. These animals must have either been killed and stuffed or else tortured to respond to the "stand up straight" command...let alone the "paint" command...

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  9. I have always loved these books. I was born in 1985 but since my parents were antiques dealers I got the two Kittens books. Goodness I loved em!! So cute. :D

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  10. According to another article on the web, Mr. Frees retired to Florida and then committed suicide, which adds slightly to the ghoulishness of the above comments.

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