Just prior to getting on the phone with Co.Create to discuss her new book Shake Puppies, the sequel to last year’s Shake, Carli Davidson was on a creative call. “We were talking about whether we could get a cat to wear a monocle. These are the great challenges of my life, and they are so much fun,” says the Portland-based photographer who still can’t believe she makes a living taking pictures of animals.
For those of you who somehow missed the frenzy surrounding the release of the original Shake, published by HarperCollins, the book was a hit with dog lovers who couldn’t get enough of Davidson’s vivid portraits of wet dogs caught in mid-shake, their faces contorted in the silliest of expressions.
Davidson was inspired to do the follow-up Shake Puppies, which finds all kinds of pups shaking their wet little bodies, after she saw how kids reacted to the first book. “The moment I thought that I would do the puppy sequel was actually the day before the first book came out. I did a presentation for my friend Hannah’s third grade class of the Shake book and the Shake video, and their reactions were so insane,” Davidson recalls. “They were standing up and grabbing at their faces and scream laughing, and seeing their reaction was so incredibly inspiring it got me totally amped up again.”
The photographer cast as many rescue puppies as she could for Shake Puppies, and she also reached out to doggie daycares in the Portland area and ethical breeders, too, to ensure the book would feature a variety of pups, and in the end, she photographed all kinds of dogs, including Golden Retrievers, Chihuahuas, Pit Bulls, Yorkshire Terriers and Great Danes as well as a lot of beautiful mutts.
How did working with puppies compare to working with the adult dogs we saw in Shake? “Well, I’ll tell you, the puppies were actually a lot easier to shoot than the adult dogs because the adult dogs would go into a studio setup with a lot of preconceived notions. They’d be like, ‘I’m at the vet!’ or ‘What the hell is that?’ There was a much higher likelihood that they were going to be nervous whereas puppies were like, ‘The world just happens, and I’m part of it.’ Everything’s new for puppies, so it wasn’t a big deal being in a photo studio,” Davidson says.
At least a half hour was allotted at the start of every shoot to let each puppy walk around and get used to her and the setup, and Davidson also spent time desensitizing the puppies, flashing the lights, for example, and then giving a pup a treat to create positive associations with the equipment. “I was also doing this hoping that if I wanted to use this puppy for another shoot someday when it grew up, he’d be like, ‘That was a fun experience.’ It was also good for the owners, too, because the more stuff you expose a puppy to the better,” she reasons.
You’d think Davidson might have been unable to resist the temptation to get a puppy of her own given how much time she was spending with them, but she and her husband actually adopted an 8-year-old Schnauzer named Saul in the midst of the Shake Puppies project. (The couple also has a dogue de Bordeaux named Norbert, who was featured in Shake, and a cat named Yushi.) “I have all the resources to raise a puppy,” says Davidson, who is also a professional animal trainer, “but it’s too much work for me right now, and I know that. People think, ‘Oh, I can get a puppy, and then in a year it turns into a dog’–the reality is they have a developmental structure that lasts for years, so you are training this puppy for years. For someone with a busy schedule who is looking for a companion, I’m an advocate of adopting older dogs and cats.”