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Volunteer Work

Lesson 30 from: Integrating Animal Photography into your Business

Norah Levine

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Lesson Info

30. Volunteer Work

Lesson Info

Volunteer Work

Now it's time to talk about taking your pet photography forward. We've learned a lot about a lot of things here, so it's kind of what's next for you. So, one thing that's really important to me, one element, is volunteer work. So, when I had the opportunity to come here to talk to you guys, it's a fabulous chance for me to talk to you about volunteer work and the importance that it's played in my experience as a pet photographer. And my hope, on the bigger scale, is to inspire other people to get involved. So, why is volunteer work important for pet photographers? So, we talked about the animal behavior. The opportunity is there to get a sense of really just spending time being around lots of different characteristics of different temperaments, dogs, cats, in shelter environments specifically, but also other situations, like other animal welfare groups. There is a need for support of animal welfare, and we have the capacity to do that as photographers with our images. There is a great ...

opportunity to build your community. So in general, as a pet photographer, whether you're in volunteer, part-time, full-time, professional, whatever that looks like for you, it's an opportunity to build your community around animal welfare, around the animal community. So, photography can kind of be a solitary experience, and artistry in general, it's a lot of work spent in your computers, editing, so it's a great opportunity to get out there in the community. And you can bring value to something bigger than yourself. So I think there's a lot of power in that. Working with animal welfare and animal shelters, for example, can definitely have a residual effect on your business. I wouldn't say my involvement with it was for that purpose, but it has increased my awareness around the community and my involvement, and as a residual effect, it helps my business. It's definitely not the primary, it's not gonna hurt me, right? So, people get to know you, and you get your name out there. So it's a residual byproduct there. So, there's lots of opportunities to get out there and work with your images. We've talked about working with specific, helping animals find adoption, you know, have images to help them get adopted. That's a big part of it. Working with the shelters and people that have animals in foster care, for example. They have mobile adoption clinics, where they take animals to pet stores and adopt their animals that way, so there's lots of photographic opportunities there. And there's lots of other animal welfare groups that provide services to the community for their animals that aren't necessarily shelters. So, spay-and-neuter clinics, for example, is one example of an animal welfare group that isn't a specific shelter, but it also needs support with imagery. There's also an opportunity to use your images for special fundraising projects. So, if you're aligning with an organization, they need images for special projects, and ways to get their name out there as well. So there's all these opportunities, but how do you really get started with it? I would suggest identifying an organization that really aligns and sits well with you. So, something, pick one or two organizations that can kind of be your adopted organization. And start to build relationships with them. Learn about them and see what they're all about, and start to build personal relationships with the people that run these organizations. Really get to know them and find out what their needs are. Ask them about what they're doing. Ask them about what their programs are and see where there might be opportunities for you to get involved. Ask questions. Where could you use photography? What are your programs like? Where is there a need for imagery? And kind of see where there's an opportunity to fill a gap. But build those relationships, and that's where it starts. So identify the organizations, and then start building those relationships. One of the organizations that I started working with in Austin inspired me to create a project called the Lifelines Project. And I mentioned it a little bit earlier, but I wanted to go in depth with it on a different level and talk about my experience with it, and really the bigger picture reason why I'm sharing this project with you is to hopefully inspire you to go after something that resonates with you and inspires you to create images that are maybe beyond yourself and really get you excited about working on a personal project or with an animal welfare group. So, do you have a question? No, you're good. So, this project, when I moved to Austin, one of the things I was missing from my community from where I moved from, was that animal welfare community. And so, I sought an organization out called Animal Trustees of Austin, and they have since been merged with an amazing company called Emancipet. So it's been a great merger, but at the time, they were a program that offered low-cost veterinary care to the community. So, I met with them, chit-chatted with them, did exactly what I mentioned. It's, hey, this is who I am. What are you guys doing? Just had a conversation about what they were doing. And throughout that conversation, I found out that they had a program that was dedicated to helping the pets of the homeless. So, this project was started as a result of this program. What I became interested with this project was kind of the bigger picture concept that vulnerability and authenticity are really shared through human/animal connection. And that's true both the participant and the observer. This is something that I've found to be more and more true in my work, in my personal work as well as my commission work. So, it's become more interesting to me. Animals tend to break down barriers, you know? So, we tend to let our guard down when there are animals involved. I know you've probably experienced this, of maybe talking to somebody on a plane, and maybe you think you have nothing in common with them, and then as soon as you find out you both have a pet, there's just some kind of energy shift, and before you know it, they're showing you all their pictures of their dog, and so there's something really powerful about that. Animals are a commonality for many of us. So this project was all about that, was about honoring the bond between the homeless people and their pets. This was a personal project that I took on because I was so inspired by it. I was really excited by the possibility of being able to create images that were positive and aligned with the other type of work I was doing. I wanted to see if I could take that same style of my work and approach and show the good part about this connection and this bond. And the ultimate hope was that it would help create, generate awareness, and it would make people think twice about judging situations, and ultimately get support for programs that exist to offer support to the pets of the homeless. So I created this video, and this project was in collaboration with Gabrielle Amster, who co-created the project with me. She was an employee of the organization at the time, and so we worked together to find subjects who were, some of them were clients of the organization, and some of them we just met on the street. I really dive into this project a little bit more in my book, I had the opportunity to go into the logistics of it, and I'm happy to answer questions about the process of it, and I'll go through the images too. So we've got a video that I've created that was a little bit of a, kind of a promotion of the project, just to share with what it was about. So we're gonna watch that next, and then we'll go through some of the slides together. (soft music) It felt really great to have the privilege of going into these people's lives. We're not taking snapshots as we walk by. They're letting us, in some cases, into their camps. This project has given me kind of a right of passage into their lives for a little bit. And they've wanted to share with the public their story. They wanted to share their love for their animals and show people, look, we're taking care of our animals just as well, if not better, than people with homes do. She comes first, before I do. I mean, I always make sure she's got food, water. I carry two backpacks. One's mine, you know, I carry a second one that's full with nothing, stuff that belongs to her. You can't judge somebody because they live out here. I've had people look at me and say, "Aw, man, you need to give back your dog." And then they get to looking at her, and they see how big and healthy she is, and they change their minds. They can't believe she's that healthy with me living out here on the streets. It's supposed to feel good when you look at my images. I'm a happy photographer. The subject matter of homelessness is not a happy one. But I wanted to find the joy that existed in this subject matter. I love her attitude. That's what drew me to her. Even when she was six weeks old, she thought she owned the world. It's like having a kid. And it makes you concentrate more on surviving every day. I've seen people that have houses that neglect dogs. But most of the people I know that live out here on the streets, their dogs are healthy, they're happy. Their protection would wake you up at night, 'cause it's dangerous out here on the streets. Maggie told me that Dixie's vaccinations were due in several months, her next round of vaccinations. And they were actually on their way somewhere, they were gonna hop a train and go somewhere. And she's like, "We'll be back for the vaccinations, the 4PAWS program, Animal Trustees." And I thought, that right there is an example of the intent, and how important the program is. I have really bad anger issues, actually. It's been a problem for a long time. And she keeps me calm, that's the way she's changed me. Also, she just keeps me all-around happy. I don't like saying I own this dog, it's like my companion. I like the word companion better, 'cause they are like your best friend. I don't know, it's just nice to know, like, friends come and go, and people come and go, but I'll always have my dog. So, you can have my backpack, you can have all my money, you can have whatever I have, but, like, it doesn't matter what you take from me, I'll always have my dog. Relationships come and go, but I'll still have my dog. So I think everything will be okay as long as I always have Dixie. When I heard about the 4PAWS program, I just thought, this is the project for me. I have the ability to make somebody think, just for one second, that there is what I believe to be a universal bond between humans and animals, and that it doesn't really matter what your situation is, that that love is still there, it's important, and it's valid. (soft music) Okay, so I'm glad I had the chance to share that with you, and it included the audio, because having the audio in there really was important to me because I feel like it really supported the imagery. So, yeah, I think that this project really changed me, and it was something that, I didn't know what it was gonna be until I started it. And I had some ideas about it. I had a vision of it kind of being an opportunity to do something I love to do and maybe shift some opinions. But I learned so much from it, so, yeah, I didn't know what was gonna turn out from this, but I went after it, and so I'm really glad I did. The best thing about having a dog in my life is that I always have someone to keep me company. These are some audio pieces here. Well, I stay in camps, so, I always make sure my dogs are okay. I always supply them with plenty of water, they eat twice a day. I have four other cats besides my dogs. They're my little babies, so I got to make sure that they're alright. And they're always someone to talk to, even in like, on my worst days, they're always there to make me happy. I don't know what I'd do if I didn't have my pets. I didn't really plan to have four cats and two dogs. I guess you could say they're the best thing that ever happened to me. So I got to go, you know, in a camp here and really have these people open up and be vulnerable to me and Gabrielle, and we interviewed them and talked to them about their bond and their relationship, and it was pretty powerful. So, you saw in the video a little bit, the concept was, people donated money, if anybody donated money to the Lifelines Project, that we would feed it into the organization and that it would go into their services. Now if anybody donates through Emancipet, which has now absorbed this program, the program still exists, so they still have a program that offers services, free care to the pets of the homeless. But it was more about, for me, on a big picture scale, it was about awareness-building. It was what I could do with these images and these audio pieces that could maybe shift somebody from making some serious judgments right away and make them think twice. Gabrielle did a great job with the audio production and capturing the vignette, the audio pieces. So, I'm really interested in this human/animal connection and the ability for that connection to allow us to talk about a difficult topic. In this case, it happens to be homelessness. And that these images made that accessible. I'm also very interested in the fact that art and photography have the potential to change perspective. I really appreciate the fact that I have the opportunity to create change and build something that didn't exist before. So, these relationships were new to me, it was kind of an opportunity to encourage other people to support this program, and it was a way for me to get outside of myself a little bit. So, it changed my perspective. Like I said, I go over the logistics of this project a little bit more in my book, but this project took place over a period of about a year. So, we scheduled the sessions, most of them were scheduled. And I photographed people and their animals where they spent time. So, I didn't scout locations and bring people to locations that I liked. It was, where do you spend time? Maybe where you camped that night, or where you were just spending time where you typically spend time. I was really glad that what my vision was in terms of my, you know, I'm hoping that these relationships are really positive, and that their experience with one another is very positive, the animal is supported and the person is supported, and that's exactly what I found about 95% of the time. It's not true of people with homes, as well. I mean, not everybody should have a pet, even if you have a home, right? But my experience was positive for both the animal and the person. So these are some of the images with that. It was a challenging project. I really enjoyed it though, and kept my equipment pretty light on these locations. So, some of the lighting, we went to bamboo forests, under bridges, there was a culvert here that we photographed in there, you know, it's where the water goes into, kind of floods through. And we had to reschedule this one because she called me and said, we can't do the shoot today, because the night before, it had rained, and all of their stuff had gone through the culvert into the water. So, I would get busy on my day-to-day stresses, and when I heard that, I was like, wow, it's just amazing to me what people and animals go through. So, yeah, we did that I think the next day. Connor with Super Max. But I kept the focus on the animal and the person connection. So that was my objective throughout it, and that kind of made it tolerable for me to deal with it on an emotional level, too, is that there was so much joy between their relationship with their animal and them. So, that kind of helped me get through it on an emotional level. And these moments were really happy moments. These guys were travelers. So some of the people were travelers, and some of them stayed in town longer. And you saw these images of Pops with Wednesday. And Bradley had taken a train, or was taking the train the next day. So, if I weren't a photographer, if I weren't a pet photographer, if I didn't get involved with animal welfare, this project never would've happened. So I'm really grateful for that. I want to share kind of what happened after I created the images. So the goal initially was to create a, have a gallery show. We're gonna generate some funds, so we kind of self-funded specifically for the show to share the work with the community and create local awareness. And so, we did that. It was great. I made these aluminum prints and hung them with rope to kind of, I wanted it to be formal, but also have kind of a little bit of an informal feel to it. So that was wonderful and we got great response. And then, the project kind of started to go beyond what my individual, it went beyond me. It got bigger than me and went beyond my individual abilities. So, we had a show at the City Hall in Austin, which was really amazing. And then from there, it got picked up to the National Museum of Animals and Society, which is now going to be the Animal Museum in Los Angeles, California, and it was on display there for their first physical exhibit, called My Dog is My Home. So it was part of that. I share this experience to talk to you about, I don't know why these are all, oh, then it started going online, it went everywhere. It kind of went viral, and it was shared around the world. It went online in different countries, and I got emails from people all over the world and telling me how much the images impacted them, and how they used to think that homeless people shouldn't have animals, and now, you know, it's making them think twice about it, and actually now that they think about it, the animals are pretty well-cared for, and maybe they should support things. And so, it was amazing, you know? And that was not about me and how great I should feel about myself, but yeah, it was powerful, and I was grateful that I had the opportunity to get that response and have that impact on people. So, these are just some of the ways that it was shared. It was just kind of out of my realm at that point. So, really the point of why I'm sharing this is that, I would love for you to take action within your means. That project for me started with what I could do at the time, and the relationship that I had built. But your project doesn't have to change the world, mine didn't change the world, right? It was just something that maybe impacted people on, hopefully, an emotional level, and maybe has changed in ways that I don't even know. So your project doesn't have to be kind of grandiose, you don't have to have a big plan for what you're going to accomplish with it. But you have the capacity to contribute with your photography. And you have a love of animals, and there's a lot of need. So I see that as a really great opportunity for you to get involved. So, don't do it out of obligation or because you think it's going to get you somewhere, because that's not really going to, I think ultimately be successful. And don't wait till you have the perfect idea, you know? Just go on something that you are curious about and see where it takes you. You know, this was something where I had some curiosity about it and I pursued it, and I've had the opportunity to speak more than once about this project. And I photographed this a few years ago. So, you know, it wasn't something that I was really, planned and had thought out to its endpoint. So, you know, doesn't have to be something you have all figured out. And definitely don't wait till you're ready, well, I haven't had this all figured out. And don't do it because you think it's gonna increase your business, 'cause that's really not gonna feed you, ultimately.

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Norah Levine Book Coupon Code
Norah Levine Resource Guide
Pet Packing List
Pre Shoot Questionnaire

Ratings and Reviews


Norah is really great and I learned a lot watching her. Even non-pet related things, like how she's continually trying to better herself were really inspiring to me. Since watching this, I've learned to take every shoot as a learning opportunity by evaluating what went right and what didn't, and thinking of what I can do next time to do better. I liked the way she showed interacting with animals in a way that doesn't stress them (well, depending on the animal there may be some level of stress anyway I guess...) too. Great class.

Chelsea Beauchamp

So inspiring! Great information on both family pet photography as a craft as well as the business side. Norah obviously knows what she's doing and has tons of experience, so it's a good chance to hear/see what it's really like to take this on as a specialty whether it's the focus of your work or one of many parts of your work. She focuses not just on the mechanics, but on the personal side of working with people and animals. You can tell she's passionate about what she does, too. It's only been one day of class and I already feel totally inspired!

Student Work