As Promised, The Winning Entry Of The Cat Picture Counter Contest, From J.H.

6 Mar


By: J.H.


Silly cat pictures. It didn’t take long after the internet really exploded onto the world scene for silly pictures of cats to come along and infect the entire thing, like a highly malicious, mind-controlling virus. Toxoplasmosis, perhaps. The primary culprits were “lolcats,” which were born somewhere in the bowels of  the 4chan forums, one ominous Saturday, or “Caturday,” morning circa 2005, best anyone can tell.

But did you know that extremely silly cat pictures have been around for a very long time? The infamous lolcat memes, with their patented, silly,  anthropomorphised pictures of cats aren’t nearly as new as you think. The man who really first nailed the nauseatingly cutesy formula as we now know it was a photographer named Harry Whittier Frees, an American photographer who lived from 1879-1953.




Frees dealt primarily in postcards and children’s books, wherein he dressed cats and other animals  in human clothes, posed them in human situations with props, and captioned the photos with old timey versions of things that passed for hilarious back then. Although he dealt with various species, for Frees, it all began and ended with cats.

He was sitting around the dinner table with his family in Audobon, Pennsylvania, back in 1906, when one of the family members passed a paper hat around the table. Each family member took turns wearing the hat, until the hat reached the family cat, at which point Frees rapturously cried “Eureka!”, assembled his old timey camera, and it was thus that  silly cat photos were born, for the masses.

And it was Good.


Frees worked hard at his newfound calling in life, and ended up making quite a good living off of his silly animals dressed as people photos. He borrowed his four legged subjects from friends and neighbors, and actually found them quite difficult to work with: for instance, flies were terribly distracting to cats,  making for especially difficult photo shoots, and so he had to make sure there were no flies in his studio when doing his old timey shoots. He  worked only 3 months out of the year. The rest of the year, he actually spent recuperating from  his epic cutesy animal shoots, and meticulously planning the details for his next shoots. As you can see, some of them were, apparently, extraordinarily involved, to the point that they likely did require 9 months of post-shoot recuperation.

His exposures were taken at 1/5th of a second, and two-thirds of the negatives had to be discarded. Over the course of his career, Frees became quite the expert in anthropomorphised animal photography. Noting that:

Rabbits are the easiest to photograph in costume, but incapable ot taking  many “human” parts.  Puppies are tractable when rightly understood, but the kitten is the most versatile animal actor, and possesses the greatest variety of appeal.”

(Note that the above caption is Frees’, not mine. Apparently, pigs really areextraordinarily difficult to work with, when it comes to playing dress up.  A hard, cold fact that Frees, along with all my ex girlfriends, certainly came to find out.)

Yes, back in the olden days, a photo such as this one–


-most likely had people laughing out loud, since back then all it took to elicit uproarious laughter from children and simple-minded adults was a picture of a cat dressed as a human asking an amusing question. These days, of course, humor has taken on  a much more sophisticated nature and-

-OK, actually, disregard that last part. Some things never change, it seems.

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2 Responses to “As Promised, The Winning Entry Of The Cat Picture Counter Contest, From J.H.”

  1. Cassie March 6, 2011 at 6:32 am #

    Better update your cat picture counter!!!!

    • absenteedaddy March 6, 2011 at 4:17 pm #

      I think I counted 35. Jesus. That was a diabolically clever way to get cat pictures on this blog sent in from E.C. from Detroit, I will admit it. Going back to the history books like that.

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