In most parts of the world, stray cats are a common sight. Lurking behind dumpsters or prowling urban streets, they are frequently overlooked, blending into the scenery like streetlamps or parking meters.
Street cats are everywhere in Israel, where photographer Alex Greenshpun lives and works. (Check out her photos on Facebook.) But when she sees these cats, she doesn’t look away. Instead, she tries to establish a connection.
"When taking a photo, I look for a unique connection with the subject — be it a plant, a person or an animal," Greenshpun says. "Cats have a certain magnetism about them which makes this connection very easy to discover.”
Greenshpun started photographing animals a few years ago while volunteering as a photographer for Dogs in the Shadow, a local rescue organization founded by three women who rescue death-row dogs from shelters in Israel. With a strong background in fine-arts photography, Greenshpun quickly discovered that cats made particularly captivating subjects. And she doesn’t have to look hard to find them; in fact, they find her.
"All I have to do is pay attention, and there they are," she says. "Felines have natural grace and beauty; they are photogenic pretty much 99 percent of the time! So as long as you have their trust and attention for a few minutes, you can create great images."
Cats might be everywhere, but that doesn’t mean photographing them is easy. Anyone who has tried to snap a decent portrait of even a domestic cat knows that any moment of stillness is fleeting and difficult to capture. Stray cats are even more challenging subjects, but Greenshpun has learned how to approach them without startling them, camera in tow.
"I try to be as calm and as quiet as possible, not making eye contact, turning the other way just a bit, as to let them know there’s nothing to be afraid of," Greenshpun says. "Some cats are more trusting than others, so it’s important not to let the moment slip away."
When Greenshpun captures these moments, she hopes her viewers connect with the cats in the same way she did while taking the photograph. She hopes her work gets people to notice the animals that surround them and sparks compassion in their hearts.
"I want to reveal [the animals’] beauty and uniqueness, to evoke warm feelings towards them, and ultimately to show how similar we all truly are," Greenshpun says. "All creatures desire to live and live well; we all feel hunger and thirst, cold and warmth, pain and pleasure. I think that at the fundamental level, each of my images tries to deliver this message and perhaps awaken compassion in the viewers."
One of Greenshpun’s most memorable subjects was a kitten named Lakshmi, who she and her partner found in a cardboard box with her sister. The kittens were only a couple of days old and were likely dumped the moment they were born, left to die in the July heat. Greenshpun and her partner cared for the kittens, feeding them formula every two hours and keeping them warm with heating pads and blankets. Unfortunately, one of the kittens died after only a day, but little Lakshmi hung on. During this emotionally trying time, Greenshpun received unexpected help caring for the fragile kitten from her dog.
"Our dog was very gentle and even helped us clean the little one, of course always with our supervision," she says. "She was as willing to adopt Lakshmi as we were."
As Greenshpun cared for Lakshmi, she photographed the experience. The tender pictures illustrated the kitten’s simultaneous fragility and will to live, and they quickly went viral. Nicknamed "Little Miracle," the kitten and her story touched thousands. To Greenshpun, Lakshmi illustrated "the miracle of life."
"But perhaps her miracle is of a different kind, perhaps it’s even bigger," Greenshpun adds. "Even if just a handful of people decide to adopt a cat after reading her story or if someone decides to spay/neuter their pets to prevent any such misfortune to happen to anyone else, then it truly is a miracle, a big one."
Greenshpun knew it was unlikely that such a young kitten could survive without her mother, but it was still heartbreaking when Lakshmi succumbed to an infection and passed away a month later.
"It was a blow to our hearts when she didn’t make it, but during her short life she was surrounded by love, warmth and care," Greenshpun says. "She will always stay in our hearts."
Since losing Lakshmi, Greenshpun and her partner have adopted another kitten who they rescued during a rainstorm. She says her dog has stepped in as "mother" to the month-old cat, and "they are a joy to watch." Greenshpun also continues to make connections with the street cats whenever and wherever they find her.
"Animals are always totally present," she says. "Theirs is a kind of raw, honest presence that we only experience as kids, and then forget. They remind me how to stay in the moment and to trust life completely."
All photos courtesy of Alex Greenshpun Photography.
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About Angela: This not-crazy-at-all cat lady loves to lint-roll her favorite dress and go out dancing. She also frequents the gym, the vegan coffee joint, and the warm patch of sunlight on the living room floor. She enjoys a good cat rescue story about kindness and decency overcoming the odds, and she’s an enthusiastic recipient of headbutts and purrs from her two cats, Bubba Lee Kinsey and Phoenix.
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