How Photographer Sophie Gamand Turned Her Passion for Rescue Dogs into an Internet Sensation

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If you love dogs, and you’ve ever been on the internet you’ve probably seen Sophie Gamand’s work.

The French-born photographer’s latest series, “Flower Power” aims to change people’s perception of pit bulls by featuring them in a dreamlike haze, crowned with a headdress of flowers.

The result is simultaneously goofy and elegant, beautiful and ridiculous. After checking out her “Wet Dog” and “Watchdog” series, you could be forgiven for thinking this was Gamand’s niche.

But one look at her photographs from “Dead Dog Beach,” in which she captured a dumping ground for stray dogs in Puerto Rico, and the earnestness of her goal of saving animals’ lives becomes more clear.

We spoke to Sophie Gamand to find out how she turned her passion for both dogs and rescue into a successful business.

LABG: How did you get into photography, and when did you decide you could turn it into a career?

SG: I was always very creative, pursuing several things at once. When I moved to New York (from France) I had nothing left: no job, no friends, nothing. I signed up for a documentary photography class—something that intrigued me, and scared the hell out of me.

My first assignment was to document a stranger in our neighborhood. I was terrified. Then I entered a vet clinic. I thought the manager would be a good to photograph and there would be the animals as conversation. From then I became totally hooked.

There were a lot of ups and downs. I spent 4 years trying to figure out how I could make a living with my photography. I alternated hopeful times with deep depressions about it all.

In the Fall 2013 I was ready to hang up my photography gear. Not only was I not making a living, but I was also burned out by my work with rescues. I was spending 90 percent of my time volunteering and only 10 percent doing what I truly wanted to do: taking photos of dogs in a way that had never been done before.

One morning in September 2013, I got up and thought, “enough.” It was time to face the reality of my career.

I quit my position as a volunteer of the rescue organization, which was taking so much of my time and energy. It was a painful decision to make, but I was dying creatively.

I also decided to stop feeling pathetic about my work; yes, trying to make a living photographing dogs was silly and pointless, in a way. But if I was going to try and make a living doing something so silly and pointless, I was going to make damn sure I was going to became the best at my job. I wanted to revolutionize dog photography. I wanted also for my work to mean something.

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LABG: What was your “big break?”  At what point did you know that your career was really taking off?

SG: Definitively when “Wet Dog” went viral in November 2013. It has not stopped since. Now my “Wet Dog” book is in the making and will come out in October.

I’m trying to build a plan for 2015. In 2014, I was propelled into a new world: lots of interviews, several big photo awards, and I started making a living off my work.

Now I feel in 2015 I need to secure all these things. That means no new series and focusing on building on the opportunities I received in 2014. I guess it’s time to put my business woman panties on! Before this year, I wasn’t ready for it.

LABG: How do you market yourself and your brand?

SG: I’m terrible at marketing myself. I just focus on being the best I can be in my branch. Shooting again and again and refining my vision.

Going viral with “Wet Dog” gave me a web presence and a voice in the media, which I was able to use when I released “Flower Power.” I’m also building on the dog community. It is important to know the community you are talking to, understand their desires and challenges.

You don’t need much, just a simple concept that people can understand, with a technically irreproachable realization of that idea. It’s an idea I learned from my father, a creative director in a big ad agency in the ‘80s. He always said the secret is a simple idea with a simple realization. I wanted a simple realization that would also be technically irreproachable. [“WetDog”] was so simple, but technically, really put together.

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LABG: What advice would you give to a young entrepreneur interested in starting a business in the creative arts?

SG: First, write your ideas down! I am always surprised to read my notes from a few months back and read ideas I had that I forgotten about! You never know where an idea will lead you. So just follow it until you are done with it. Even if you think your idea is silly, go for it. If you feel strongly about it, that’s what matters. Because it is not about how silly the idea seems to the world, it is about how serious you are about it.

Follow your heart but be proud of every single piece that comes out of you. That being said, know your limits. Be demanding with yourself, but also be kind to yourself so you don’t shoot down all your ideas and undermine your work.

When I did “Wet Dog”, [it] was a quick fun thing that I did not over-think. All of a sudden it went viral and my first thought was, “Shit. Was my light good enough? Was this or that perfect?”

Going viral was the best thing that happened to me because it forced me to give up some control. And I have never been so successful as when I let go of the control a little. So I would say that finding a balance between perfectionism and letting go, that’s a good thing to work on.

One of the best pieces of advice I read said the warrior fights with the weapon he already has. This idea changed my life. As creatives, we often find excuses to slow down our process: “I need a better camera, I need this lens, I need this or that.” But the truth is you don’t need more than what you have to be great. Stop chasing what you don’t have and start building on what you already have.

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