The Feline Post (Part I)

At the risk of sounding tiresomely pretentious, I owe my obsession with cats to Robert Altman. Or whoever was responsible for a particular scene in his fantastic 1973 adaptation of The Long Goodbye.

In it, iconic LA noir protagonist Philip Marlowe bumbles his way through a relatively low-stakes mystery that is largely kicked off by the disappearance of his pet cat.

Meow, fucker.

During a ridiculously entertaining opening scene that positions the private detective as disaffected-to-the-point-of-incompetence, Marlowe tries and fails to find the only brand of cat food that would possibly shut his annoying cat the hell up and let him catch up on what seems to be some much-needed sleep.

Following an unsuccessful attempt to fool his pet by surreptitiously scooping some other brand of food into the correct brand’s empty can, and then visibly scooping the counterfeit dinner into a bowl, the cat runs out of the kitchen and through a little door labeled: “El Porto del Gato”.

I was struck by so much during this scene.

I adored Marlowe’s casual persona, hovering above human interactions in a state of near-catatonia but somehow remaining single-minded in his pursuit of feeding his beloved cat.

The handwritten sign on the cat-flap sealed it for me, though.

It occurred to me that somewhere in the recent past, this archetypal hard-boiled detective took the time out of his busy day, possibly neglecting an important case, to amuse himself by creating the most adorably redundant sign in the history of signs.

As motivations for obtaining a pet goes, this one is pretty questionable.

I wanted to be Marlowe: competent and compassionate despite being afflicted by an catastrophic sense of general indifference.

And obtaining a cat was the obvious first step towards either inhabiting this persona or solidifying the fact that I already had.

The next week, I adopted Hank and Sofia from a lovely couple who were moving to Ireland – a move I would replicate six years later.

Hank hated me and instantly adopted my neighbours who were looking for a replacement for their angry, furry abomination who, at that time, was not long for this world.

Sofia, on the other hand, loved me and I loved her back.

Sofia… stole and broke my heart.

I won’t go into detail but this amazing little thing didn’t stay with me for long. In my head she’s being loved by another person, but I acknowledge that this possibly isn’t the case.

There were more cats post-Sofia, but since I just remembered that this is a photography blog, I’ll dispense with the whimsy.

Point is… I love cats. For the same reasons that other cat people love them.

Oddly, they’re not hugely popular pets in the parts of Southeast Asia that I have spent much time in. But I have encountered several of them in the hundreds of hours that I’ve walked through the streets of Saigon, Hanoi, and Chiang Mai.

Release Caution. 9/5/18. Chiang Mai.
1/200 | f/1.4 | ISO 4000

Release Caution was taken towards the end of a really long evening of shooting Chiang Mai’s Old City.

After spending the majority of the night photographing the proprietors and clientele of a popular food market along the southern moat, I turned northwards and found a beautifully lit section of road where this little girl was playing with her siblings underneath some plastic furniture and a maroon sedan parked on the side of the road.

It was late and it was hot, but I had no qualms over lying my tired, sweaty body down on the sidewalk for ten minutes to snap about thirty shots of these happy little guys.

Processing the photo was a pleasure, but took me several attempts spanning about a week to find a tone that worked for me. At first, the visibility of the car annoyed me, but when I came to the end of this prolonged development process, I had become quite fond of both the chrome and the immediate perspective it gives the shot.

Renewed Glass. 2/7/19. Saigon.
1/2500 | f/1.4 | ISO 500

Renewed Glass was the first time I was confronted by a minor moral issue that I’m sure other photographers who document more serious topics regularly face.

Without making too much of it, because let’s be honest, this is hardly a war-zone or village ravaged by disease and famine, I wasn’t sure if I was comfortable publishing a photo of a cat that’s been tied up.

Ultimately I felt comfortable publishing the photo because the creature was obviously cared for and the tether was very long, allowing it to roam the entire Com Tam restaurant run by its owners.

Another more abstract issue this photo raised for me was my perception of myself as a semi-permanent visitor to a foreign country with extremely foreign customs.

I briefly mentioned this topic in the Saigon piece I wrote for Deep In The Cuts recently, and here is an excellent example of how to be a Westerner Needing To Know His Place.

Yeah in a situation like this it’s super tempting to consider your customs as superior to those of the people whose country you’re visiting, but is this the person I want to be here?

Do I want to Khaleesi the chain keeping this cat close to its owners and out of the insane Hoang Sa traffic? Or do I want to show life as it is in this intense, sometimes cruel, city?

Does the sense of satisfaction I’ll get from doing the “right thing” by my values come from a place of sincere altruism, or do I see this as an opportunity to flaunt my Highly Evolved Moral Compass?

As you can see, I opted to just take and publish the photo.

But trust me when I say, this cat was adorable, happy, and healthy and I have no doubt that the chain was used to keep it safe.

That’s it for Part 1 of the cats I’ve met on my travels. I have several more of these photos in my portfolio and will post Part II soon.

Thanks for reading 🙂

Leave a Reply