Spotlight On: Harry Whittier Frees

Spotlight On: Harry Whittier Frees

Guest of Ohdeedoh
Aug 31, 2010

Photographer Harry Whittier Frees is responsible for the original LOL cats along with LOL dogs and bunnies. I can remember coming across a few of his children's books, tattered and on their last limbs, at our public library as a child and being utterly enthralled. Without photo trickery (not to mention Photoshop), Frees' photos of anthropomorphic animals let children enter a magical world where kittens wear petticoats, puppies go to school and rabbits ride in zeppelins. Not so far fetched for children who already believe animals can talk.

Frees, who was born in 1879, first got the idea to dress up animals and photograph them after a silly party hat was passed from head to head at his family's dining table and inevitably ended up on the cat. His animal photos became more and more elaborate as he sold them for use on postcards, calendars and then children's books. He was often questioned about his methods as many speculated that he must have drugged the animals to achieve these shots. Frees vigorously denied these accusations and insisted he only used extreme patience.

Frees' work has become highly collectible and you'd be very lucky to run across a postcard or book at a flea market or thrift shop. A few years ago I bought a set of four of his reprinted children's books and I see you can buy three of them (Four Little Kittens, Four Little Puppies, Four Little Bunnies) on eBay for $20.

This 1937 Life magazine article tells you more about Frees and includes many of his photographs. Another place to view his work is by searching his name on Flickr. Two of his prints can be found as downloadable hi-res TIFF files in the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Catalog or you can order a printed copy. A few years ago, many of his photographs were collected in Cats, Dogs & Other Rabbits: The Extraordinary World of Harry Whittier Frees which is available through Amazon.

I know some people may find these photographs creepy or strange, but I loved them as a child and my son and I love looking at them today. In fact, I caught my son putting a sailor hat on one of the cats the other day, but I couldn't get to the camera quick enough&hellip

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