The photograph by a couple of celebrity photographers of the world’s top celebrity currently, Taylor Swift, with her Ragdoll cat, Benjamin Button, draped over her shoulders like a scarf, has caught the world’s attention. It was captured for Time Magazine to celebrate Taylor Swift being named as their Person of the Year. Great work. But how did they do it? I ask because following the publication of the picture TikTokers and other social media users have been trying to do it themselves often without success even when using a Ragdoll.
Potential difficulties: Normally, the domestic cat in a strange place – which the photographic studio would have been – and surrounded by a lot of commotion would probably be unnerved and non-compliant. They would be unlikely to rest on their owner’s shoulders long enough to capture a good picture. Some cats will allow it but the typical domestic cat probably wouldn’t under these circumstances.
Time Magazine: We’d like to name you Person of the Yea-— Taylor Swift (@taylorswift13) December 6, 2023
Me: Can I bring my cat. https://t.co/SOhkYKSTwG
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These are my thoughts on how the photograph was achieved but I am speculating because nobody has told me.
Ragdoll cat: the Ragdoll, as you may know, is bred to be passive and affable. It is their trademark characteristic. It is very rare for a cat breed to be selectively bred to have a certain character because normally the focus is on appearance. The Ragdoll cat is an exception. This probably – or almost certainly – was of great benefit when taking this photograph. It may be the only reason why the photographers were able to capture this photograph successfully.
Taylor Swift as a cat caregiver: I think a factor in the success of this photograph is that Taylor Swift is an excellent cat caregiver subject to the demands of her profession which no doubt pull her away from her cats a lot of the time. But she loves her cats and I have a strong sense that she has a very good bond with them. This must have helped to make the photo session a success.
Sedation: I am pushing the boundaries a bit here in suggesting that it is possible that Benjamin Button was mildly sedated before the photo session using one of a wide range of sedation methods which I don’t want to list here because I would rather you touch base with your veterinarian for advice on appropriate sedatives. It is possible that a veterinarian was present in the photographic studio and administered a sedative via injection before the photo shoot. What you want is a cat who is calm enough to keep still for the duration of the photo session to allow the photographer to manipulate the subject and arrange accurately while remaining alert with bright eyes which is exactly what happened. Like I say the cat is the key element in the photo.
Arranging the subject: you can see that Taylor Swift and Benjamin button have been very nicely arranged. Every aspect of her position and the cat’s positioning have been thought through as has the lighting which was by strobe lighting to freeze action. I suspect that the photographer rehearsed the positioning of Taylor Swift and her cat and did some dry runs beforehand with a cat substitute. You cannot obtain the cooperation of a domestic cat in a photo session for more than about 10 minutes in my view. I learned this from watching Helmi Flick, the American cat photographer. I sense that there was considerable planning involved in this photo.
Benjamin Button: Benjamin Button is the key to the photograph. Taylor Swift, we know, takes great photographs. She is very attractive and talented and is able to position herself perfectly for the photograph. The question would have been how do we ensure that Benjamin Button accepts being handled and positioned in a very precise way on Taylor Swift’s shoulders and remain there long enough for the photographers to capture the photograph that they desire? This might have encouraged them to gently sedate Benjamin although, as mentioned, Ragdoll cats are affable and pliable.
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