Cat-Vision as Art

The feline perspective produces unique angles on one couple’s neighborhood.

Like so many cat owners, Green Lake residents Michael and Deirdre Cross often wondered where their friendly 3-year-old tabby, Cooper, would go when they let him out of the house. When Deirdre found Mr. Lee's Cat Cams, a Web site that sells mini-cameras meant for felines' collars, they decided to give one a try, ordering and attaching it to Cooper's collar and letting him loose."At first it was really just an experiment to find out how far he goes," says Michael. "Does he leave our yard, how many of our neighbors' yards does he go into, or—heaven forbid—cross the street? We found out immediately, oh yeah, he crosses the street—including the really busy street that we live on, Linden Avenue."Cooper gets the camera, which automatically takes a photo every two minutes, affixed to his collar about once a week. Of the 6,000 or so pictures he's returned, most are throwaways—black frames taken during one of Cooper's many cat naps. Some, however, are truly outstanding. Snapped from only about six inches off the ground, Cooper sees things from a vantage humans would be hard-pressed to achieve: a street scene from the inside of a bush, a brightly colored fall tree snapped from the burrows of tall grass, or rain-soaked lawn flamingos that from Cooper's height seem larger than life."It kind of begs the question of what is art," muses Michael (he and his wife are both filmmakers). "Some could argue it's totally arbitrary, because he has no knowledge of what he's taking a picture of or when the picture is being taken. Yet the result is some of those photos are better than some pictures I've taken—and I put a lot of thought into focus, exposure, lighting, and composition. It's interesting that something completely arbitrary can have such a beautiful result. It really changed my view on what art is, how it can be conceived and how it's interpreted."Animal Planet came across some of Cooper's shots on Mr. Lee's Web site and contacted the Crosses. The station thought his story would be perfect for their television series Cat 101. Cooper's episode will air December 6.

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