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Interview: Photographer Debunks the “Crazy Cat Lady” Stereotype with Over 300 Portraits

My Modern Met

“So far, I have been the foster mom of 14 beautiful kittens. My current fosters are three tabby siblings named Lather, Rinse, and Repeat. It’s so rewarding to see them grow up from little roly-poly balls covered in kitten food and dirt, into healthy, spunky young cats. And it’s even more amazing when you get to see them grow and thrive in their new permanent homes. In my life, there have been few experiences as rewarding as fostering.”

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The “crazy cat lady” is one of modern culture’s most enduring stereotypes. Photographer BriAnne Wills knows that this idea is largely false, and she has set out to dispel the myth with her ongoing project called Girls and Their Cats (GATC). Since 2015, she has snapped portraits of women and their felines to showcase them in a positive way—as interesting ladies who love their cats. The initiative has been a hit; over the course of several years, she has photographed more than 300 women and their rescued, adopted, and fostered kitties across the U.S.

Wills presents her audience with more than just a charming picture of a woman and her cat (or cats). Each profile features many photos of the two interacting, whether it’s cradling the cat like a baby, petting them, or playing with a feather toy (sometimes it’s all three). In addition, Wills shares the story of how the woman and cat came to find each other, the feline’s personality, and, often, how pet ownership has changed the life of the human for the better. The result is a well-rounded look at the families and what makes the “crazy cat lady” idea feel totally silly.

Just because a woman has a cat, it doesn’t mean she’s a “crazy cat lady.” Photographer BriAnne Wills is looking to debunk this false (and very negative) image of women with cats—one photo at a time.

Cute Cat Photo
My Modern Met

Sara Anderson & Loki
“This cat has more personality and sass than any animal I have ever met. We are inseparable. We are best friends.”

Cute Cat Photo
My Modern Met
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Nomi Leasure, Atticus & Scout
“Food, it would turn out, was something Atticus really, really enjoyed. Perhaps it was those formative months spent scrounging the unforgiving and un-bountiful city streets that instilled in him the dire desire to dine… In any case, he quickly became a sizable companion whom I lugged – lifting from the legs not the back – from city to city.”

GATC started as a way to debunk the “crazy cat lady” stereotype. What inspired you to want to dispel this generalization?

I was just tired of seeing the way “cat ladies” were portrayed in the media. And I wanted everyone else to see cat-owning women the way I see them, as unique, cool, and interesting women who love their cats.

Woman and Her Cats
My Modern Met

Jen Hsieh, Bubba & Jeff Goldblum
“As a child growing up, I never had the responsibility or companionship of pets (aside from fish, who I had to learn not to get emotionally attached to, due their short lifespan). So, providing much needed homes to these furry nuggets has been such a game changer. Not only have I learned to love more unconditionally and work on my patience – seriously though, how many plants can one cat knock down – but it’s also given me and my boyfriend a way to strengthen our relationship by caring for Bubba and Jeff Goldblum together.”

What is the process for photographing your subjects?

Each shoot is about an hour. I come to their home and we sit for 10-15 minutes chatting and getting to know each other. It’s also a way for the cat to feel comfortable with my presence. The next 45 minutes or so I photograph them in various posed and candid moments. In order to get the cats to look at the camera, I use a noisy cat toy and shake it near my camera.

Cute Cat Photo
My Modern Met
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Catherine Willett & Edgar
“We made eye contact, and the next thing I knew, the staff were giving me the scoop about this new friend… So, I signed the paperwork, named him Edgar after Edgar Degas (there was something quite French about his style) and took him home with me. Within a month or two, he grew to the size he is now to my utter surprise. He must be part Maine Coon because he weighs over 20lbs and is quite large.”

Cute Cat Photo
My Modern Met

Dr. Alisa Neymark, Koda, Lily & Finnegan
“My relationship with a heroin addict was a no-win situation: the more I tried to help Alex (a pseudonym), the more I lost my balance… Alex had grown up with cats. Shortly after he moved in, he expressed disappointment that he was never greeted at the door by a slinky feline, weaving between his legs. Wanting to please him so that he’d stay off the drugs, we adopted Koda.”

The stories of women and their cats are extensive—you really get to know these cats and their humans! How do you get your human subjects to open up and share their stories?

Maybe it’s because they know the cat community is supportive and welcoming that some people feel like opening up and sharing more than just their kitty story. Sometimes they touch on a subject (past trauma/abuse) and I ask if they’re comfortable sharing how that ties into their cat story, but I never pry or force anyone to talk in detail. When they do open up like that, we get something so personal and beautiful and it tends to resonate with many readers.

Woman and Her Cats
My Modern Met
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Tyisha Shaia, Ginger, Piper & Brooklyn
“Brooklyn is the most recent addition to the family at 4 years old. She’s a dog in a cat’s body. She comes running to the door when I get home, loves to play, and literally bounces off the walls. She’s everyone’s favorite at house parties.”

Women and Their Cats
My Modern Met

Daniela Gutmann, Kuki Doh & Moka
“Her foster mom had named her Duchess….which is funny. We re-named her Kuki Doh on our way home because she reminded me of cookie dough.”

Your project is so popular that you’ve had to stop accepting new applications. What do you think resonates with people that makes them want to participate in GATC?

I think everyone just wants to share their special story and have nice portraits with their cats. I don’t blame them.

What’s next for GATC?

I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing, but I’d love to do a second book at some point. Maybe international Girls and Their Cats one day.

Woman and Her Cats
My Modern Met
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Thanu Yakupitiyage, Bug & Fish
“My partner and I joke that we got them because we were stressed out by the election, and well, clearly having them around has helped us cope with the aftermath. It felt significant at the time for me to get pets because I had just received my U.S residency card after fourteen years of visas and struggling to stay in the States.”

What can you tell us about the Girls and Their Cats book?

Girls and Their Cats the book features 50 profiles of cat ladies around the U.S. It’s an extension of the website in that each profile has a portrait and a story. But it also comes with a fact box about each cat, that includes their favorite snacks and their many nicknames. Interspersed throughout are cute and relatable listicles, like “You know you’re a cat lady when…” and “Cat tail language, explained.” And an underlying message of the book is adopt don’t shop.

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