The tale of the polydactyl cat is one of the feline world’s fondest legends. These congenitally abnormal cats are blessed with a higher-than-average number of toes, with a 27-digit kitty claiming the current world record. The author Ernest Hemingway was said to be particularly smitten with their appearance and demeanor after a sea-faring captain bestowed one on him.
Today, Hemingway’s former house in Key West, Florida, has become something of a polydactyl cat range, with more than 50 of the extra-toed scamps running around the place. Naturally, they are often called Hemingway cats as a colloquialism.
Recently, the New Zealand-born photographer Henry Hargreaves wrangled his way into the Hemingway house to complete a photo project based around the six-toed lovelies. Here’s the inside scoop on his tryst with the Hemingway cats.
Catster: What first attracted you to the subject of the six-toed cats?
Henry Hargreaves: I went to the museum and saw them roaming the house. I was intrigued by the story of them and wanted to shoot them in a way that reflected that.
When shooting the cats, did you attempt to play up their six-toed status in the photos?
Absolutely. They all have the polydactyl gene, but only about half of them have the sixth toe. I definitely wanted to focus on those guys, but when you’re dealing with animals most of the shoot comes down to chance.
I’ve read that you’re not allowed to pick the Hemingway cats up. Did this pose a problem during the shoot? Or did you get special permission?
I had the local cat handler. Maybe you’re not allowed to pick them up, but I was allowed to pose with Winston Churchill for a shot!
What tricks did you use when attempting to get the cats to actually stay still for their portraits?
Silly noises and faces! The handler also had some toys, which can be seen in the behind-the-scenes video.
Did you pair certain colored cats with specific backdrop colors?
It was all random. I had one hour to make it happen so I didn’t even get a chance to over think color themes with their personalities.
The cats are all named after famous people. Which were some of your favorites to photograph?
I really like the older ones as they were so unpredictable. I really wanted to shoot Elizabeth Taylor but she was having none of it!
Do the cats’ personalities seem to match the names they have been given?
Yeah they do, but maybe that’s just us crazy humans thinking that.
Hypothetically, would a six-toed cat be more or less likely to be able to use a camera to take photos themselves?
More — that’s one more trigger finger!
Finally, do you have any plans for any further cat-themed projects in the future?
Not right now. I’m actually slightly allergic to cats and my eyes swelled up really badly during the shoot and took two days to subside.
Check out the full Hemingway cats project over at Henry’s website and take a behind-the-scenes peek at the photo shoot in this YouTube clip below.
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About Phillip Mlynar: The self-appointed world’s foremost expert on rappers’ cats. When not penning posts on rap music, he can be found building DIY cat towers for his adopted domestic shorthair, Mimosa, and collecting Le Creuset cookware (in red). He has also invented cat sushi, but it’s not quite what you think it is.