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Interview: Rachael McKenna – 2

Never work with animals or children?…

Read the Episode 1 of our interview with Rachael McKenna, in which she talks about babies, animals and her love of France here.

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How did you get started taking photographs? When and how did you decide you wanted to do it professionally?

I knew from the age of eight that I wanted to be a photographer. The day I set foot into the darkroom with my grandparents and watched with amazement the images appear in the developing solution as my grandfather rocked the tray back and forth. This was the day my heart was set and it has been my passion since. I live and breathe photography. After a while you naturally see the world as if seeing it through a viewfinder.

There are many photographers that I admire who have inspired me over the years to keep trying to be better than I am. The masters that influenced me through my student days were photographers such as Patrick Demarchelier, Bruce Weber, Elliot Erwitt, Annie Leibovitz. These photographers, plus many others, still inspire me today. Over the years it becomes your own heart and soul that creates the images for you but I admire all photographers that create work for people to enjoy. I love to view as many different photographers work as possible to keep me inspired. It was this inspiration of other photographers’ work that gave me the courage and the enthusiasm to try for myself, so as soon as I left school I ventured down the path to become a professional photographer.

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What do you strive for as a photographer?

When I photograph I am aiming to capture the emotion and character of what lies within the view of the lens. Whether it is an animal, a person, a landscape, urban or interior setting, or a combination of these elements, it is important for me to not only create a beautifully composed image, but also to use the light and the elements available to create an image that takes the person to that place emotionally. Along with the satisfaction and joy of creating images that I am proud of, I also strive for recognition and approval from the public and most importantly my peers.

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W.C. Fields famously said, “Never work with animals or children.” But you have become one of the world’s most popular photographers doing exactly that! What drew you to take photographs of animals and children? ??

When I first started out on my own in the photography world it was animals that inspired me and after signing a contract with a publishing company to create a range of animal portraits I proceeded to develop a name for myself with the international release of my animal images. I made the decision to take a break from creating my animal images in 2007 when Geoff Blackwell, the founder of the publishing house I work with in New Zealand, PQ Blackwell Ltd, approached me with the idea to create a new range of baby images for books and licensing. Of course with my love of babies I agreed wholeheartedly. Then came the natural progression of combining the two subjects to create the images for my book BFF: Best Friends Forever and for the licensing range ‘Babies and Friends’. I am lucky that I am a naturally calm and patient person, I seem to have a natural empathy with both animals and babies and a personality that babies and animals warm too. This alone makes working with and photographing the two subjects, together and separately, a lot less challenging.

Your images have been published on calendars, posters, greeting cards and stationery around the world, and in books including 101 Cataclysms: For the Love of Cats, 101 Salivations: For the Love of Dogs and most recently The French Cat. What advice would you give to budding photographers?

The best advice I can give anyone who is wanting to photograph animals is to be patient, never force an animal to do something they are not comfortable with, keep your set up simple so your subject does not get overwhelmed (also don’t have too many people around when photographing; I often work by myself to get the best results), let your subjects have breaks to keep them fresh and make the session fun. Don’t work for too long and if it is not working, stop and try again another day.

Can you describe your book, The French Cat and what inspired it.

The French Cat is a photographic journey of my travels around France on the quest to befriend as many cats as I could. The text talks about my experiences and the pictures show the many characters and places that my husband, our daughter and I had the pleasure of exploring. With many years of studio work under my belt I was desperate for a change. When my husband Andy and I decided to move to France it was the perfect opportunity for me to combine another of my passions, travel, to the equation. So with the base passion ingredients of photography and animals along with the added ingredients of travel, fresh inspiration and the freedom to photograph on location, the result is The French Cat; a book I am extremely proud of. I feel it showcases my best work yet.

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We have spoken about animals (particularly cats), children and France; what else inspires you?

A huge influence to my imagery is light. I am always looking for a way to capture the light in an image to bring out even more feeling within the image. I love photographing in the early morning and at dusk. I find creating images at these times often gives you a lot more essence to your images… though when photographing animals in their natural environments I don’t always have the pleasure of being in control of the light and often have to work with what is available.

What were the challenges and benefits of taking photographs in France for six months with your young family?

I feel extremely privileged to have had this opportunity to travel to a beautiful country along with my husband and our new baby daughter. Creating photographic images on a daily basis truly is any photographers dream assignment. It was not always easy travelling with a baby, living out of a suitcase and nearly every day sleeping in yet another new bed. You do miss the comforts and the routine of home life, but it also has its benefits. Our daughter, Charlize is now an incredibly well travelled and socialised little girl and never grumbles when she is placed in a new room to spend a night. She also now has a beautiful book to keep forever to remember her first year of life. There wasn’t really any major challenges, we had a perfect routine where I would head out early in the morning cat hunting leaving Andy and Charlize sleeping, and then when I returned we would all venture out together to spend the day exploring. Travelling together was also a wonderful way to bond as a family. I can honestly say I couldn’t have done this without Andy and Charlize by my side; it is not just my project, it is a true ‘McKenna’ project!

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Thank you Rachael for taking the time to speak to us at My French Life™. We’ve enjoyed getting to know more about you and your photography, your photographic journey and your French favorites. To find out more about Rachael, you can see her website.

All images credit Rachael McKenna.
Many of these images appear in her exquisite book
The French Cat. To WIN a copy of The French Cat, see our Facebook page


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