Pit bull dogs have an unfair reputation for being an aggressive or violent breed. Advocates and fellow dog lovers are actively working to change these extremely harmful stereotypes; because of them, pit bulls are the most neglected and abused dog breed. Photographer Sophie Gamand is one of their most visible and vocal supporters. Since 2014, she has adorned the lovable and adoptable dogs with gorgeous crowns made of flowers and invites viewers to look at them in a new, softer light.
The ongoing series is aptly called Pit Bull Flower Power, and the portraits are as beautiful as they are charming. Each one highlights the unique personality of the pup; some are smiling from ear to ear while others are caught making a silly face that’s sure to warm your heart. To find subjects for these powerful photographs, Gamand works with shelters around the U.S. to snap pictures of shelter pit bulls in need of adoption. She regularly shares these pups and others on her Instagram and Facebook and has helped save their lives.
After several years photographing Pit Bull Flower Power, Gamand has collected the images in a book of the same name. The coffee table-style publication will have 250 pages of portraits, outtakes, and inspiring stories of the dogs—including adoption updates. It’s now available for pre-order on Kickstarter.
We had the pleasure of talking to Gamand about Pit Bull Flower Power. Scroll down to read our exclusive interview, below.
What inspired you to start this project in 2014? How has it changed since then?
I was afraid of pit bulls, but as a volunteer photographer in shelters, I saw a lot of them. Each time I would tense up, not giving these dogs a fair chance. I decided to create a series that would force me to interact with these dogs in a more intimate way. I was curious to see if art could rebrand them, help them get adopted, and change the way we see them. As soon as the first images came out in summer 2014, they went viral big time, propelling me into the role of a pit bull advocate. It was unexpected but I decided to embrace this journey. Slowly, I learned to know pit bulls and understand their plea. I started traveling around the country to go meet these dogs in shelters. This series changed my life in so many ways, and now it saves the lives of many dogs too.
Can you share some of the stories that readers will find in Pit Bull Flower Power?
There will be a wide variety of stories, which illustrate the things these dogs go through, how the system often fails them, and spectacular adoption stories and updates. It will be a celebration of my models and the people who care for them, like Blossom who was adopted and returned 3 times before finding her home. One of her families had to bring her back to the shelter when the dad was deployed to Germany, a country that doesn’t allow the importation of pit bulls. So although Blossom was perfect and safe and very sweet, she suffered from that prejudice, and her family too.
[continued] Murdock was seized from his owner who used him as a bait dog in a dogfight (as per forensic evidence). Bait dogs rarely survive their ordeal: they are rendered powerless, restrained and their teeth are filed, their muzzle shut with duct tape or even wire shut so they can’t fight back, and they are used as a training tool for lead dogfighters. It’s a brutal, cruel practice. It’s rare to be able to meet an ex-bait dog as they are usually killed in the process. Murdock was very sweet and snuggly. It was a heartbreaking encounter.
For my book, I was able to chat with the Animal Crimes Unit of the DA’s office that was in charge of his case. There will also be the story of Connor, who was diagnosed with a sensory processing disorder (on the autism spectrum). His story will bring to light mental illness in dogs, a subject that hasn’t been studied much. Each story will be a pretext for me to explore many different themes related to pit bulls, dogs in general and shelter dogs in particular. And then, of course, I will have many adoption updates and sweet messages from adopters, showing how much these dogs are now loved.
What’s the most memorable subject you’ve ever crowned?
Frida! I met her last January in Mexico. She’d been rescued after her owner, we suspect, broke her spine. She’d been dragging her legs for over a year. I saw her on a mattress, in the middle of the jungle, at the rescue compound. She’d been there for 9 months or so. I couldn’t leave her behind. I organized her transport to New York, where I knew she would have a chance at adoption. I raised $10,000 to help her and all her Mexican friends back at the rescue. I fostered her, got her a set of wheels, and it was amazing to see her gain more freedom. Then I found her a home in Ohio, where she now resides with her family. Frida is my special one, and she has a special crown too. She marks a new important milestone in my personal and creative journey.
The images are beautiful, dreamy, and serene—how do you achieve this tranquility in your portraits?
During a shoot, I try to level with my models and meet them where they are. It’s a dance, a language. I find it hard to explain. I think they trust me. Or at least, they are intrigued by me. I am drawn to that kind of portraiture, moody, sometimes sad. People will comment, “Oh this dog looks so sad!” But I think it’s my approach and personal affinity that they see in the portraits. Although sometimes, of course, some of my models are heartbreaking, scared, shut down. You can see they have sort of given up. I have photographed about 500 dogs for Pit Bull Flower Power. I have met many different personalities!
Since beginning this project, have you seen the stigma surrounding pit bulls change? How so?
The only reference I have is my own world, of course, my social media, people around me, shelter staff. I know that Flower Power has changed the mind of many because I receive lots of messages about that. People will tell me my work has opened their eyes, that they fostered or adopted a pit bull for the first time, or that they don’t feel like switching sidewalks anymore when they meet a pit bull in the street. What I love most about this project, is that it inspire compassion. It goes beyond shelter dogs or pit bulls. It’s about the way we view the world and finding spirit in all beings.
In addition to the Kickstarter, what are other ways for people to support you and your flower power?
People can follow my social media, in particularly my Instagram. They can share the work, bringing awareness to shelter pit bulls and promoting adoption. They can purchase fine-art prints and merchandise throughout the year. I operate like a non-profit basically (even though I don’t have the legal status, something I am thinking about!). I never charge a cent to shelters for the photoshoots, I cover my own travel expenses, and I don’t get paid either for all the work I do on a daily basis for rescues (posting dogs every day to help them get adopted for example, or fundraising for them). My supporters who purchase my work make all of this possible and I am super grateful.