I’m always browsing back and forth through my photos for design projects, though typically they are just the more recent digitals; I’m a little lazy about this sometimes. But in the past few months I’ve been telling the stories of my own cats and also writing my rescue stories and to illustrate I’m digging out photos of rescued cats from as long as 25 years ago. I’m also working on design projects using my artwork, so I’m digging back through recent digital photos and farther back into the years of film prior to that to find my shots of the artwork as I work on my layouts.
Digging through photos is not unusual as I use my own photos for my design assignments all the time. But this is different—I’m specifically looking for cats in all these boxes of prints. It’s been so long, I had forgotten how some of them looked when they were young.
And some of the rescued cats and kittens I had actually forgotten I’d rescued, there they were and their story came right back to me.
Then there are my commissioned portraits of cats through the years, the photos I took of the subjects and the portraits in progress and finished, it’s all like a review of my cats, of my art, of my past 25 years and where it’s all led me.
And as I look through them an old song simply begins to play in my memory as well.
“Photographs and memories…”
The photo at the top is of Cookie from July 2011, barely a year ago, hard to believe. I photographed the heck out of her last year. She looks fine and was feeling great, but on that particular morning, in that moment when she looked up from her bath, seeing her in all those speckles of sun in by the basement door where I’d seen her for years, somehow I knew, and she knew, that 2011 would be our last year together.
There is Peaches from 2010 though it seems like yesterday as she not at all subtly reminds me that she needs to eat, now! Though I knew her chronic renal failure was going to get the better of her and our time was limited, we still had wonderful days, she a part of each moment I was home. Her petite frame, her creamy white fur with the big peach and gray patches, her quiet self-centeredness and her devoted expressions greet me from photos of her from nearly every day until October when she passed. Hard to believe we only had five years together.
And there with her is Dickie, that big silly tabby cat I fostered for a year who managed to fit right in with everyone in the household, trying to look like one of the girls on the cabinet in the kitchen so he could get some of their food, sleeping in one of his truly bizarre positions, bathing Kelly in the library.
The year before that I find Namir and Cookie and I out in the yard for that last splendid June mingled with photos of the flowers as they bloomed, the two of them trailing me around as if I needed supervision, the yard changing from bare and sunny to lush and green and shady as the seasons changed, flowers bloomed, the garden filled with produce and we three shared a special bond I’ll always remember.
Then I find the year of Mimi and the Fantastic Four as they grew from black fluffballs to rangy juveniles, back when they were hardly more than just another momcat and litter of kittens who needed homes, before they all stole my heart. I’ve been enjoying sharing photos from their kittenhood now that everyone knows them so well and they are approaching their fifth birthday!
“All that I have are these
To remember you…”
Before them I find Lucy, their half-sister who I lost so young, lithe and active, a part of every scene, already a subject.
Back to the time when Peaches and Cream were strangers who had just arrived, and when Peaches officially joined the household.
Stanley and Moses enjoy a morning nap on the deck in the morning, and in other photos there is Moses, quiet and gray, reclining in the sun on the bricks just outside the basement door, Stanley accompanying me in my garden, all the greenery noticeably smaller than a few years later in Namir and Cookie’s photos.
Sophie peeks at me through the lace curtains, blue forget-me-nots filling the windowbox just outside the window; I am so glad I turned around to see her and quickly snapped that shot as I was leaving the house one evening.
I wonder why I photographed my Recamier, a piece of furniture I no longer have in my house, and there I see Nikka, my dilute tortoiseshell kitty, nearly lost in the floral pattern.
I am again filled with wonder at the beauty of Sally’s glowing, silky white fur as she simply sits in the sun, and laugh when I see her sleeping in the shade under the Brussels sprout plants.
“Memories that come at night
Take me to another time
Back to a happier day…”
Then, as I move farther and farther back through the boxes of prints sorted into envelopes I watch my household grow younger, I see them walking on different floors and draped on different furniture, cats who’ve been gone five, ten, fifteen years reappear.
There are Kelly and Namir the very first time they came down down the stairs and decided to join the household, 1997, and today Kelly hardly looks a day older than here!
And Allegro sits on the windowsill soaking in the winter sun.
There is Fawn comforting Kublai in the last year of his life as a puzzling, undiagnosed illness caused him to waste away to nothing. Before that, Kublai frolics in the deep snow the winter it was two feet deep from nearly November to April.
Cookie amply fills up a pedestal sink in the bathroom I removed years ago.
There are the leagues of foster cats, individuals, momcats and litters of kittens, who I scooped up from a back road, trapped in a barn or accepted from someone who simply didn’t want to or couldn’t keep anymore who lived with me for days to weeks to months, but who went on to other loving homes, their “portrait shots” showing them from all angles and closeups of their faces intended for a dozen or so reprints to hand out to friends to help find them homes in the old-fashioned way before electronic communications made it so easy.
“But we sure had a good time
When we started way back when…”
And through this I am reminded of the first meetings with each of the cats who came to spend their lives with me, however brief or long that life was.
At one time each of them was a refugee and stranger, and that it was only by the chance of not being adopted that they came to stay with me.
How was I fortunate enough that these cats who I grew to love so desperately came to stay with me? You can see below how they changed my life.
Because among all these photos is me with my dreams, behind the scenes, behind the camera, learning to see, to plan, to think in different media, following their lead as they showed me their inner beauty, taught me about sunlight on their fur, looked intently at me to be sure I’d learned the lesson.
I didn’t know where I’d end up, but I knew that in these photographs of the lessons they gave me were what would lead me to…today.
I see the photos that became paintings, sketches, block prints—Fawn peeking out from under the bed, Stanley on the table, Moses on the pink sweater, Kublai and Sally curled together like yin and yang, each of the works a combination of studying their movements and their personalities, and finding that one special moment that I found exceptional with each of them, instilling my love for them as I worked.
Through their patient, constant guidance I was directed from simply seeing, to visualizing, to realizing not only what I saw but what I felt, I photographed, remembered the moment within and without me, and put that on paper as best I could.
Others saw my paintings of my cats, saw perhaps my talent and skill but also how I felt about each of them, and asked if I could celebrate their beloved animal companions in the same way. I had thought that no one could love their cats as much as I loved mine, but in discussing their portrait with each of the people who commissioned me I learned that each of us loves our animal companions just as deeply, and that having people not only give me photos but also stories of love and devotion are essential to a good portrait.
Sharing all of this led a richness to my life I would never have known in any other chosen profession, and even my decision to work at home as a commercial artist was influenced by the desire to create more time and space for this artwork.
“Photographs and memories
All the love you gave to me
Somehow it just can’t be true
That’s all I’ve left of you.
But we sure had a good time
When we started way back when…”
I look around my home and there they are, in the flesh, on the walls, in boxes of photos and books of sketches, every moment of life with them an inspiration to do more, to try a new style or medium, to simply awaken my senses to shape and color and the essence of an image. If I ever leave a legacy it will be because of them. I thank them every day for giving me this life.
Thanks to Jim Croce for such a sweet song: “Photographs and Memories” © 1973 EMI Records
The lyrics (scroll down the list):
And a performance:
And thanks for taking this walk down memory lane with me. It’s been sweet to be able to share my feline family through the years, and to show how they influenced—actually became—my art. A day never goes by that I don’t remember what they mean to me as an artist, and with every photo I take, every sketch I post, I know that I am thanking them, and giving them a life beyond what I could ever hope to do with food and a roof over their little heads. Perhaps in some way it repays a bit of the debt I will always owe to the felines who share my life.
All images and text used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used in any way without my written permission. Please ask if you are interested in purchasing one as a print, or to use in a print or internet publication.
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