This gorgeous little thing is named Moujik, and the photograph was taken by Joanna Totolici, a high school friend of mine who has gone off to New York and gotten all famous on me. In typical "wow, Pittsburgh is a really small town" fashion, I ran into Joanna a few years back (at Target - of course!) when she was still living here in the 'Burgh. I always suspected that Joanna was probably one of the coolest people in my high school, and my suspicions were confirmed when, a few years later, some of her dog sessions found their way onto her facebook page. Believe me, capturing the personality of these dogs the way Joanna does takes some serious talent. There were no clothes wearing dogs, no dogs with props, just plain old glorious dogs, dignity intact. Wisely, Joanna has recently established Toto Photo, and as the site proclaims, "Toto Photo likes Dogs." Hey, guess what? So do I! Then, I learned that Joanna is planning a trip back to the 'Burgh for some very special, "just in time for Christmas" sessions. Now, if there are any members of my family reading this, I want to mention here that for those who love dogs, this would be a very good gift (nudge, nudge). This upcoming session prompted me to call Joanna and sit and beg for an interview, which being the very cool chick that she is, she graciously accepted
The first question I had for Joanna was one I had been dying to ask. It should be no surprise that I have taken millions of photos of my dogs, and without exception I get some crazy demon-eyed blur that is instantly deleted. My dogs are hyper. Crazy. INSANE! I would be just a tad humiliated to take them into a photography session. They would shake and tremble underneath my feet, and my Rat Terrier would growl like Cujo. How the heck does Joanna not only manage to capture such great photos of these dogs, but also gets them to perform like rock stars?
"High-strung dogs can be a challenge for sure, yet sometimes they yield the most interesting results! If they are wild and crazy, I like to capture them that way, just as they are. Sometimes bribing them with a treat or their favorite squeaky toy can help too, even if just for a millisecond! There are other secrets, and I could tell you, but then I’d have to bite you."
Note to self, bring lots of Greenies to a photography session with Joanna......
Before Joanna was a completely awesome photographer of canines, she turned the camera on human subjects, and firmly established herself as a fashion photographer. Don't be surprised to see her credited in the pages of some of your favorite magazines. In the most recent issue of Shady Ave, Joanna's photography is the highlight of a feature on 'Burghers and the dogs they love. So, what brought about the switch from 2-legged subjects to 4?
"I've always been completely CRAZY about dogs! But in the beginning I didn't want to be labeled as the pet / children photographer. I am not being snob about such work, it is just not who I am and what I do. It was important for me to establish myself as a fashion photographer and THEN introduce a modern, clean, and fun way to photograph and present the dog images. Slowly I got so caught up in fashion that I forgot about the dream of dog portraits.
I would often bring my dog with me to my photoshoots, and the models would always go crazy for her. Even the allergic ones. One day, on the set for a national campaign, our doggie walked in front of the camera, sat and crossed her long legs ever so lady-like. I couldn’t help but take a few images. That’s when TotoPhoto was reborn.
I'm glad I waited, as I feel I can deliver much better artwork now than from even three ago. In fact I am fashion photographer at all times: sometimes my models are human, sometimes they are not. But you can safely say the fur coats worn by doggies are the only ones that our studio, TotoPhoto, approves of."
As I mentioned before, Joanna is based primarily in New York, but will be traveling back to Pittsburgh as needed for work. I asked how she thinks the pet photography concept will translate here in the 'Burgh.
"Being in New York has been a great impetus. As ambitious about work as they are, New Yorkers are just as insane about dogs, for many of them have dogs as their surrogate children. Our concept of high end dog portraiture seems to be just what the doctor ordered. You'd be amazed at all the doggie play groups, spas, and "yappy hours" that occur here in New York. How often I'll be coming to Pittsburgh depends on how much the TotoPhoto concept will appeal, but we will be coming on regular basis, whether for doggies or other assignments."
Hey, I have Yappy Hour at my house every night! I think this is a call to action fellow dog owners!
The one thing I love almost as much as dogs is living in Pittsburgh. I asked Joanna to tell me what she misses the most about the city.
"I lived in Pittsburgh between 1992-2001 and then again from 2005-2008. First of all I miss my friends. I also miss the affordable living, the amount of space available, and also how easy it is to get from point A to point B. And restaurants like Spice Island, Pho Minh and Kelly's. If I could have TotoPhoto permanently in Pittsburgh, I would probably be the crazy dog lady."
Sorry Joanna, the crazy dog lady title has already been taken.
Now, get out the tissues folks! I wanted to know the most memorable session that Joanna has had with a dog, and this one is a heartwarmer!
"The most memorable session was when we photographed about 20 dogs for the Humane Society. Most of them were the shelter dogs, so it was especially tricky to get them to stay in front of the camera long enough to take a shot. They were 100% fireballs of energy ready to run around and meet people. A few others were rescues, owned by the very dedicated workers of WPA Humane Society. We have been told that one in particular, Maui, was slated to be put to sleep by her original owners. Not because she was aggressive, nor because she had some deadly disease. It was because her owners thought she was crazy. Now she is a certified therapy dog. Can you imagine? Of all the many sessions that followed since that, Maui’s story, cheerfulness and gentle demeanor stayed with us. Please adopt responsively, the WPA Humane Society can help you, and could use your help at the same time. http://www.wpahumane.com"