Flower Power is a year old! I thought it would be fun to put a chronology together, and reflect on how amazing the journey has been since August 2014!
A year ago, in July 2014, I decided to do a "quick summer project" with local shelters. It had been a few months I had wanted to create a series involving pit bulls, so I could get to know these misunderstood dogs better. Admittedly, I had my own apprehensions around pit bulls. Volunteering at shelters I would often photograph them, and could not help but tense up around them. One day I decided to confront my feelings and see for myself what the hype was all about. Were pit bulls evil flesh-eating monsters? Or were they absolute angels? Or were they, and this seemed more credible, just like any other dogs, animals with their limitations and needs?
For a few weeks I obsessed over the idea of a pit bull series. I wanted to create something different. I knew I wanted to work with shelter pit bulls, in the hope the portraits would also help them get adopted. I had just finished photographing my Wet Dog book (coming out on October 13th!!) and was aspiring at a series that would involve more manual work, gluing things together, painting. One night, I was thinking about how to photograph pit bulls in a new way and the idea of using flower crowns came to me. I had never made a flower crown before, and never photographed a dog - let alone a pit bull - wearing one... So the idea seemed a little crazy but the next day I was purchasing flowers and my first glue gun ever!
I mentioned the idea to my friend Samantha Gurrie, a dog lover and wonderful writer, and she immediately offered to help me source the models, and since she was an active volunteer of Sean Casey Animal Rescue, a shelter with lots of adoptable pit bulls, we thought it the perfect place to start. On July 17th, 2014, I set up a studio at Sean Casey's shelter. I had built a few crowns and when I opened the suitcase, I was met with suspicious looks from some of the volunteers there (the guys, namely!). Ally Andriolas, the shelter manager, welcomed me with open arms. She understood the creative process, and that it was my first attempt. I am forever grateful for people like her, patient and understanding with us - crazy artists with strange ideas. Sam, Ally and I worked together tirelessly that day, photographing my very first pit bull flower models. Without these two incredible women, there would be none of this.
Putting the first crown on Baby, I was unsure on how the images would turn out. I was certain the dogs would knock the crowns off their head instantly or freak out. After all, these were pit bulls! Maybe they would even try and bite me? Remember I still had apprehensions about them. Approaching the crown from Baby's head, I had to brace myself. Our faces were so close I could feel her warm breath on my face. I swiftly secured the crown and stepped back, looking at her. She did not move. Instead she stared at me with her big golden eyes as I promptly grabbed my camera. I was worried I would lose the moment, but Baby sat there. Peaceful. Confident. Baby gave me the chills. She was so dignified and gorgeous. Sweet, trusting, magical. At the first click of the camera, I knew I had something incredible happening before my lens.
Flower Power was born.
That day, I captured several flower portraits, including the one of Cali, which later became the most known Flower Power image. Although I had wanted the series to be a collection of moody portraits, Cali's smile was contagious! She became my first smiling Flower model.
Two weeks later in July I met with Jennifer Brooks, President of Second Chance Rescue. She welcomed my project and I photographed more flower dogs. It was nerve-wracking to wonder: could I reproduce the magic that had happen on my first flower shoot? But again, I was amazed at how well the dogs were doing with the crowns. Obviously, these shoots take a lot of work and I could not do them without the precious help of wonderful staff or volunteers who handle the dogs for me. But what struck me the most was how well the dogs were doing! My crowns became more elaborate, too, as I got more daring with sizes, and more intricate designs.
Early August 2014, I added a few more faces to Flower Power, thanks to the awesome team at Animal Haven, a shelter where I had been volunteering for a few months. Dharma, Europa, Lucy, and my first Flower puppy Rome joined the flower family. And it was a man, Mantat Wong, director of operations at the shelter, who helped me secure flower crowns on the dogs and capture those sweet faces!
After this third shoot, I was ready to release the images to the world. Coincidentally, it was Pit bull awareness week on the Huffington Post, so I submitted my project and they were thrilled to publish it a few days later. Arin Greenwood wrote a wonderful piece on Flower Power, which went live on August 5th, 2014. After this, things snowballed. Many other media outlets picked up the story, and what I intended as a "quick summer project" became huge and a full-time occupation! The images were extremely successful on social media, and the shelters received lots of attention too. People started asking me for a calendar. I was happy to oblige, and offered the proceeds to the shelters. I just needed one more portrait from Second Chance Rescue.
Jennifer came over to my apartment with Baby, a huge big mush. If you think pit bulls are impressive, you should have seen him walk into my apartment. I think I gasped. That day I realized for the first time I did not have apprehensions around the dogs anymore. I was getting more comfortable with pit bulls, which allowed me to be open to their personality and charm. The Flower Power magic had operated on me. I was hoping other people would have the same reaction too. The shoot was amazing. The crown reached epic proportions. I knew Baby could handle all the awesomeness.
After his portrait, I had enough Pit Bull Flower Power images to create a 2015 calendar. The calendar helped me raise money for the shelters, finance the crowns and also helped spread the message even more. Someone emailed me to tell me they had teared the calendar apart, stuck all the images on the wall of their daughter's bedroom, because, "she had said she wanted to wake up to these faces every day".
Early September 2014, I answered the plea of Hemsptead Town Animal Shelter. Located on Long Island, they have about 200 dogs in their care, most of which are pit bulls. Many long timers, too. Like Brownie who had been sitting there for two years with no interest from potential adopters. I spent the day at the shelter with their rescue coordinator Emily Tanen, who was instrumental in getting me there, and a wonderful handler (Nick). It was great to meet a guy who took the flower crowns as seriously as Nick did! We photographed 30 dogs, most of them with flowers. It was the most exciting - and exhausting - day! Later on, Emily shared the photos. Brownie's was first. Her portrait had come out really lovely. Very touching. Emily added a heart-breaking text presenting her story, and a desperate call for action. It went viral. A couple of weeks later Johnny adopted Brownie upon seeing the photo on social media. As a matter of fact, Brownie received so much interest that other dogs got adopted by people who came to the shelter to meet her!
Brownie's story validated the entire Flower Power project. I received similar stories from other shelters, dogs being adopted, or people coming in to volunteer, meet and walk the Flower Power models! I felt as if a revolution was happening. Something had shifted. I was receiving an outpouring of support from all over the country, then the world. Even my husband, a cat person, told me he stopped feeling the urge to switch sidewalks when crossing path with a pit bull. Instead, he said, he just wanted to snuggle and kiss their sweet faces.
I gave many interviews, and Flower Power got featured countless times. If you have a look at my press section here, you'll get a sense of the magnitude of the event. I literally spent the following 6 months discussing Flower Power with journalists. I also created the hashtag #PitBullFlowerPower, to bring people together. Today, Instagram has over 5,000 images using this hashtag! Instagram themselves featured me, followed by Mashable that released a great video piece about Flower Power. Flower Power was also featured in numerous publications, including Oprah Magazine!
More rescue groups and shelters joined the campaign (The Sato Project, Motley Mutts Pet Rescue, Mr Bones & Co, Rebound Hounds, Redemption Rescues Inc., to name a few). Then in November 2014 Mrs Sizzle invited me to come photograph dogs at Brookhaven's Animal Shelter. They had lots of pit bulls, many long-timers. I built about 60 to 70 crowns and spent two days at the shelter. We photographed 60 dogs, many with flower crowns.
Since then, I have continued photographing Flower models. You can see the complete list on this page. More than half of these dogs have found homes, but many are still waiting. Flower Power keeps being featured in media, and has graced the covers of prestigious photography magazines around the world (including Italy and Korea!), as well as won awards!
Last June, I was honored by two of my favorite organizations for Flower Power: Mr Bones & Co at their annual event Rescue The Runway ("Hero of the Year" award), and Animal Haven during their annual benefit (Leonard Simon Award).
I feel like the message is being spread far and wide. A message of love and understanding. And it's thank to all of you who have been by my side the whole time. My dream is that people stop being afraid of pit bulls, so that pit bulls stop attracting owners who just want "a scary dog". If we can break the cycle, I believe we can change the way we treat pit bulls. Did you know that America euthanizes upward of 1 million of pit bulls every year? (out of 1.2 million of dogs total). Don't get me wrong, I don't mean everyone should adopt a pit bull. Actually, many of us shouldn't. They can be strong dogs who need experienced owners. But most of the pit bulls I meet are wonderful, regular dogs, who just need an open-minded person to come their way. I also strongly believe that we cannot go on the way things are. Pit bulls are beautiful creatures who deserve more from us. They deserve more than being produced irresponsibly and discarded the way they are being right now.
What does the future hold for Flower Power? I am currently working on the 2016 calendar. There will also be a large exhibit of the series in Paris from September 17th to October 12th (Adrien/Kavachnina gallery). I also would love to organize a road trip in 2016, crossing the U.S. from East to West and stopping at shelters to photograph models in various states and cities. And then hopefully make a beautiful book out of the adventure. So stay tuned and if you would like to be involved: as a shelter or rescue group, or if you have an amazing pit bull who overcame all odds, or if you have a lovely B&B that could accommodate me while I'll be on the road, or if you work for a nationwide corporation that might want to sponsor the project, or... well, you get the picture..., contact me!
Love and Peace, always!