#BeYourOwnIcon - Jesse Freidin
Jesse Freidin tells stories.
“So what?” you say, “lots of people do.”
But do they tell stories about dogs and their unique relationships to humans? Through Photographs?
Jesse Freidin does because he believes that the bond between a dog and its owner is unlike anything else in the human experience, and should be celebrated.
Jesse Freidin is an award-winning photographer who specializes in fine art dog portraiture. His work has been featured in galleries across the country as well as private collections. He is a storyteller above all, striving to authentically show the special human/animal bond and the important role that these animals play in people’s lives.
HOW IT ALL STARTED
When American Sunglass asked how he got started in photography, Jesse says, “I’ve had a passion for photography for as long as I can remember. When I was little I had a Fischer-Price ‘Polaroid’ type toy camera that ejected little colored ‘Polaroid photos’ - I was obsessed with that toy. It’s what made me fall in love with observing my world through a viewfinder, and I’ve never tired of that feeling.
“I didn’t know that I could turn that passion into a career, though, for many years. That took an enormous leap of faith, but I do feel that I’m doing exactly what I always wanted to do. “
Jesse has won several prestigious awards for his dog portraiture. When we asked him what made him start photographing dogs and their owners, he said, “I’ve always been a portrait photographer because I’m fascinated with observing relationships and people. I’m very curious about how people relate to one another, and where we find comfort and love.”
“I didn’t know much about dogs growing up, but I was always drawn to them. There’s a photo of me as a small child laying down on the floor next to a large Golden Retriever - dogs made me feel understood. So it wasn’t surprising that my portraiture turned to the dog/human relationship later in life. To me, photographing dogs is simply a way of photographing the human condition, photographing unconditional love, and getting to observe intimacy first hand. It’s very inspiring.”
Jesse urges people to ask for help in their industry and learn from mentors.
“Of course, I think every artist should ask for help within their industry. We can’t work in a vacuum, and I was lucky enough to have been accepted into an internship program many years ago at a fine art family photography studio in San Francisco. That is where I got my education, because I never went to art school. Interning was my way of asking for help, and I dedicated myself for a year to working hard and learning on the job. It was an experience I always recommend to students or other younger photographers. You need to be humble, and you need to put the time in under strong mentors.”
FINDING SHELTER PROJECT
Jesse’s latest passion project, Finding Shelter, is a tribute to the special relationship that develops between animal shelter volunteers, and the rescue dogs they care for.
The series aims to show the softer side of animal shelters - the genuine love, warmth, and healing that happens there. The photographs also tell the story of how important the volunteers are to the shelter’s survival, and the amazing work they do to help heal the wounds of the abandoned animals.
And in return, the animals give love and affection to the volunteers, even helping some heal their own emotional struggles. This reciprocal relationship is what makes these moving portraits so special.
He was inspired to create his book, based on a lack of attention given to animal shelter volunteers. “I was inspired to begin this project about three years ago after seeing so many other photographers donating their time to photograph adoptable animals at shelters around the country.”
“It was an amazing way to highlight the animals and get them adopted,” he continued, “but I was so curious about the story that they weren’t telling - that of the actual volunteers who were doing all the work to care for these animals. With all the animal-related content in the world right now, and mass over-flow of pet photos on the internet, for some reason no one was paying any attention to the humans that were involved in the situation”
He had a plan. “So I set out to fix that, fueled by a theory that within the shelter system it was the dogs that were really giving back to the humans and not the other way around. I believed that if I just asked people why they volunteered, I would find a vast amount of stories of personal heartache and pain being healed by simply working with shelter dogs. And that’s exactly what I found - that volunteering is a two-way street. Dogs get healed by the humans, and humans get healed by the dogs. It’s a beautiful concept.”
Jesse attributes his success to his commitment to quality and hard work. “I never compromise my photographic style, and that has allowed me to stand out creatively from the crowd. I do things the hard way, which makes for a slightly more difficult process yet results in higher quality work and that is something I deeply am committed to. There are so, so many photographers focusing on dogs and cats right now - which is great - but after all these years no one has been able to recreate my particular style of photographing and production. I think that has kept me above the crowd in some ways.”
He advises millennials to, “Pay your dues, and don’t cut corners. Look at what everyone else in your industry is doing, and do the opposite. “
The photography series, Finding Shelter, is currently available on for sale on Amazon.com . It will be featured in a hardcover book released at your other favorite retailers on April 1st. Proceeds from the book will go to all animal shelters involved in the project. You can pre-order a copy from your favorite retailer.