De Koekkoek

Daniel Geb­hart de Koekkoek’s sur­real set of pho­to­graphs de­pict fe­lines get­ting air­borne in their un­sus­pect­ing hu­mans’ homes

Professional Photography - - Contents -

Vi­enna-based Daniel Geb­hart de Koekkoek de­picts cats in flight

They spend all their time asleep in cramped spa­ces, at­tack­ing any­thing that moves, look­ing dis­ap­prov­ing and be­ing scared of cu­cum­bers. But ap­par­ently, the life of a cat is not as it seems. “The se­cret is that cats are jump­ing all the time, but they don’t want to do it in front of us,” says Vi­enna-based editorial and com­mer­cial pho­tog­ra­pher Daniel Geb­hart de Koekkoek. De­spite the fact that he’d worked on some pe­cu­liar projects in the past (from body builders to in­te­rior shots of an Aus­trian nu­clear power plant), cap­tur­ing the cu­ri­ous lives of cats in full fluffy-su­per­hero-mode hadn’t been on his to-do list. But then he got ap­proached by the Ger­man art pub­lisher VfmK... “The pub­lisher came to me and asked if I would like to do a cal­en­dar with them,” he ex­plains. “At first I thought they were jok­ing – a cal­en­dar is not a way I would usu­ally pub­lish my work! So I said: ‘Sure, we could do a cat cal­en­dar,’ as a joke. But they liked the idea and that’s how it started.” As he be­gan to re­search his­tor­i­cal cat pho­tog­ra­phy fol­low­ing the com­mis­sion, de Koekkoek stum­bled across Dali Atomi­cus: the col­lab­o­ra­tion by Philippe Hals­man and Sal­vador Dali in 1948. “They did a fa­mous pic­ture for which their as­sis­tants were throw­ing cats,” he says. “My idea was to create a con­tem­po­rary in­ter­pre­ta­tion of their ‘cats in the air’ project.” As a rule, cats do the ex­act op­po­site of what you want – so how do you make the most con­trary of pets per­form? “Throw­ing would be easy,” says de Koekkoek. “I wanted to form a deep re­la­tion­ship. So with each cat, we’d see each other for a few weeks and gain each other’s trust. This meant the cats started to re­act like they would when no one else was watch­ing. When they started to trust me, they started to jump.” Over the course of six years, de Koekkoek says that he cap­tured just two or three pic­tures to doc­u­ment the aer­o­batic prow­ess of each cat: “Once they were jump­ing, it was easy to get the shot,” he says. “But I did shoot be­tween 20 and 30 dif­fer­ent cats, then edited down to the ones that worked to­gether as a series.” Elli, his par­ents’ cat, was his first fe­line sub­ject. “I started

with her, and then I went from one cat to another,” he ex­plains. It turns out that the silent ob­ser­va­tion prac­tised in ‘Jump­ing Cats’ is a driv­ing com­po­nent be­hind much of de Koekkoek’s per­sonal projects, which de­pict the vis­ual cul­ture and idio­syn­cra­sies of the so­cial en­vi­ron­ments on which he chooses to fo­cus his lens – past projects have in­cluded Je­ho­vah’s Wit­nesses and winter camping en­thu­si­asts. “My free work is about small worlds and peo­ple do­ing some­thing they are very pas­sion­ate about,” he ex­plains. “For me it is very im­por­tant. If I only did com­mer­cial work, I think within a year I would have put the cam­era down. Per­sonal work gives me a fresh eye – it keeps me pas­sion­ate about pho­tog­ra­phy. Af­ter a free project, I’m re­freshed and can put this en­ergy into my com­mer­cial work.” Back in cat ter­ri­tory, de Koekkoek is re­luc­tant to name a favourite cat or most mem­o­rable time on the project. “They all had their own minds,” he replies. “They were very dif­fer­ent.” Although a hint of favouritism can be de­tected: “Poppy the cat [Miss Jan­uary] re­ally likes to jump over tables or so­fas – not from one step to another – she al­ways jumped over hur­dles,” he re­calls. In the age where cat videos rule the in­ter­net, it’s not sur­pris­ing that this pho­tog­ra­pher is not the only con­nois­seur of show-jump­ing cats. “Nor­mally

My free work is about small worlds and peo­ple do­ing some­thing they are very pas­sion­ate about. For me it is very im­por­tant.

when I ex­hibit work it at­tracts the same peo­ple, the art crowd,” he says. “But when this project was first ex­hib­ited in Vi­enna in Novem­ber 2016, it was so nice to see so many dif­fer­ent peo­ple; peo­ple who are not into pho­tog­ra­phy or the art world at all. “They were very en­ter­tained and ex­cited. Ev­ery­one can un­der­stand it. If peo­ple think it’s funny, then that’s more than I can do with any other photo. There’s no deep mean­ing.” Daisy McCorgray

“Cats are jump­ing all the time, but they don’t want to do it in front of us,” says de Koekkoek.

Koekkoek formed re­la­tion­ships with the cats to en­cour­age them to jump.

Lim­ited edi­tion prints of Jump­ing Cats are avail­able at col­lec­tor­sagenda.com/ en/edi­tions and the cal­en­dar is avail­able from the Ver­lag für Moderne Kunst shop: vfmk.org.

De Koekkoek shot be­tween 20 and 30 dif­fer­ent cats and then edited down to the ones that worked to­gether as a series.

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