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