The Animal Soul Story [Part 1]

When I first started photographing cats and dogs I didn't have a specific end in sight. I enjoyed doing it and left it at that. I was in my final year of university and I had but few ideas about my next professional steps. Animal Soul emerged as an unlikely contender. I had imagined that at this point I would be making films, and that is where my passion has been from the day I picked up a camera. Photography was always a natural by-product, but had I expected to dedicate myself primarily to it? No. Had I expected to be publishing an art book of dog and cat portraits before my 23rd birthday? Not in the slightest.  Had I expected to be publishing a book, full stop? Absolutely not. 

A few months after I graduated from university I began to feel a little lost. I had no specific professional direction other than some small-scale video projects. After a brief stint unsuccessfully working in Jordan, I posted an article about my animal photographs on a social media platform for artists to share their work. The article picked up incredible momentum, and before I knew it I was contacted by a publisher in California interested in bringing my series of animal portraits (then entitled 'Faces') to bookstores worldwide. I hadn't even considered a book at that point, I had about twenty viable images (only four of which made the final cut for Animal Soul) and I had zero experience in the realm of publishing. After speaking to a few published authors, I quickly learned that blue moons occur more often than publishers reaching out to first time would-be authors. I was highly encouraged not to squander the opportunity and to do everything I was told, lest I lose the publisher's attention.

I made a fifty day plan to make all the photographs for a book to be published three months later (how naïve I was). About three weeks later, I was on my way to my 30th shoot. I would be photographing German Shepherds when I received an email from the editor I had been corresponding with. He and all the other editors were committed to bringing the project to the bookstores, however as it turned out, the acquisitions board did not feel the same way. I received the email the same way one would a receive a rescindment of an acceptance letter to a university. Needless to say, I was devastated, for about twenty minutes. I had come this far, why stop now? I pulled myself up from the proverbial bootstraps and went to photograph those dogs. Except this time, instead of explaining to the owner of the animal that a publisher in the United States was going to publish my book, I explained that I was doing it myself. Just like that, without any deliberation, I had signed my verbal contract. I had another forty appointments ahead of me and I was not about to cancel them all. So I drove all around the Netherlands for the next three weeks, making some photos of animals in between all the driving. But after that six week period, I had enough photos to make a book. I actually thought I had enough to make two books (naive, once again). 

How hard can it be to fill about 200 pages with photos?
— Robert Bahou, May 2015
 Animal Soul being printed in Belgium. April 19 2016.

Animal Soul being printed in Belgium. April 19 2016.

At first I approached the book as a portfolio. I would find the photos I like the most and just place them on pages. I had a 300 page book, but it felt lazy. I wasn’t sure what it was, but I put the book aside for a few weeks to look at again with fresh eyes. Upon coming back to it, I realised that I wanted the images to speak to each other, as opposed to simply displaying my best work. I wanted to surprise the viewer with each new page, I wanted people to look at the images and see the silent conversations. I dived back into the archive of 20,000+ outtakes, picking photos (that I didn’t consider previously) specifically because of how they could complement another photograph in the book. I’ve found that two average photos can become incredibly strong when juxtaposed. 

It took about six months of coming back to Animal Soul to settle on an edition of the book that was ready to print. However, I don’t think it will ever be ‘done’. I even changed around some photos hours before it was printed. What I can say however is that it is as close as I can get to finished.