Friday, May 9, 2008

Pet Photography and the Rennaisance Woman

It has often been said that necessity is the mother of invention
and such was the case with Renny Mills’ foray into the world of pet photography.

Renny was formally educated at the Ohio Institute of Photography and relocated to Chicago in 1984 to begin her professional career. She honed her craft over the next decade free-lancing for one of the city’s largest catalog studios in the demanding industry of table top photography while moonlighting as a wedding photographer on the weekends.

The combination of these two diverse disciplines began to shape her approach to creative photography and as a result her work reflected a photo journalistic flavor. It was evident that Renny exuded a calming influence, which allowed her subjects to feel at ease and is an attribute vital to capturing a natural and candid image.

Her evenings were spent in the stillness of the darkroom where she further perfected the technical elements and artistry of hand rendering and it was where, on one such evening , that she received a call that would set the stage for a new path that to this day is still unfurling.

A neighbor was dog sitting and called with a unique gift idea for her brother who was traveling with his family. Her thought was to photograph their dog “Audrey”, an elderly Cocker Spaniel whose health was failing, and surprise her family with a series of portrait photography as a keepsake reminder of their beloved pet.

Utilizing the lighting skills she perfected in the catalog industry and with the allure of an exciting new challenge, Renny re-tooled her studio with pet friendly props and squeaky toys. The backdrop was set and after a few simple test shots little Audrey tilted her head toward the camera as the flash bulbs popped. The dog was a natural and Renny was hooked.

The flash bulbs continued to pop over the next several days as Renny photographed her three dogs as well as her neighbor’s dog Cocoa the Pointer. The images captured during these early efforts would prove to be timeless and enduring as one of the early images of Cocoa, which was published nationally, has endured as the calling card most associated with Mill’s unique approach to her craft.

Her repertoire has expanded to include custom silk screen renderings, gallery exhibits, custom framing and matting, yet perhaps one of the most daunting challenges of late does not take place in the controlled environment of the studio but rather “ where a dog can be a dog!” Renny Mills is in her fifth year as camp photographer for Camp Dogwood which convenes twice a year and offers a unique bonding experience for the camper and their canine companions with activities such as lure coursing, agility trials, fly ball, dock diving, and just plain dog tiredness.

What started in a small studio in Chicago has grown and transcended the Midwest with demand for her services in Michigan, Indiana, and Illinois and will culminate with the release of a calendar in 2009. The sale proceeds of the calendar will benefit the efforts of Pet Refuge, a no-kill shelter based in Mishawaka, Indiana and is one of several philanthropic endeavors that Renny has embraced and supported.

“ I truly love what I do, “ said Mills, “ I have the opportunity to freeze a moment in time and preserve a beautiful image that we can revisit at any time that we need to lift our spirits.” In dog years, that translates to a lifetime.

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