Award Winning Photographer, Artist, and Dog Advocate Sophie Gamand: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became An Artist
Stop thinking and start doing. Too often, we get stuck in our heads and the What ifs? But life only happens when you start doing. My career took off when I stopped fantasizing about some photo series I wanted to create, and instead started snapping away. I ended up creating a body of work that had nothing to do with my initial idea, and the project went viral (Wet Dog). I got a book deal, awards, exhibits… and it opened up my career.
As a part of our series about “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became An Artist” I had the pleasure of interviewing Sophie Gamand.
Sophie Gamand is an award winning photographer, multidisciplinary artist, and activist born and raised in France. Spending a significant portion of her artistic life in New York, Gamand recently relocated to Los Angeles.
She is known for her striking photographs such as the widely acclaimed and iconic baroque-infused, kitsch portraits of shelter pit bulls wearing flower crowns ‘Pit Bull Flower Power’ Series and ‘Wet Dog’ (Winner of a 2014 Sony World Photography Award). Her work has been celebrated in publications such as O Magazine, National Geographic, and The Huffington Post and exhibited in both Europe and the U.S., most recently at Fotografiska Sweden and Estonia and her ‘Black Dog’ series was shown at the 212 Photography Istanbul Festival in October 2022. You can learn more about Sophie and her work at: www.sophiegamand.com
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I grew up in France, in a small town near Lyon. I was very lonely as a child, and felt very misunderstood and unloved. It didn’t help that I spoke up about things very early on, and was never afraid to ask difficult questions! Life and death always intrigued me. Pushed by my father, I ended up studying Law, despite wanting to go into a Fine-Arts school.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
I always knew I was an artist, but it took me a lifetime to come back to it… and I am still working toward that! I have been a full time artist since 2013, but the blocks in my head are still very much alive. Back in 2010, I moved to New York City. I had a camera, and not much else, so I started taking photos of my surroundings, as a way to get acquainted with my new life. Soon, I realized I was pointing my lens towards dogs a lot. It was easier to communicate with them than with humans! After a short while, I heard about the number of dogs stuck in shelters in the U.S., and I was shocked! In France we have shelters, but the numbers are nothing compared to what the U.S. are facing. I knew I had to help give these dogs a voice. Somehow, I manage to marry my desire for an artistic life with my drive as an advocate for rescue dogs.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
Working in animal rescue, I have tons of stories! I still have to pinch myself every day, that I get to create art that helps save lives and better our communities. It’s been a roller coaster and an incredible adventure. Perhaps what’s particularly fun is how years ago I dreamed of traveling the world to photograph dogs and tell their stories. And now I am able to do that, and I get asked all the time, from people all over the world.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I am mostly known for Pit Bull Flower Power, which is a series of shelter pit bulls wearing flower crowns. This project has been going on since 2014. For years, I have put my work as an advocate on the driver’s seat. Every decision I made was based on that. But since moving to Los Angeles, I realized I had to find a better balance between the desire to create art that moves me, and the need to help others. I am trying to focus a little more on my art making. I just finished a huge exhibit I showed earlier this month. It was really wonderful meeting my Los Angeles audience, and showing new work in this gorgeous venue. I look forward to exploring this further.
I am also fascinated by mesoamerican stories involving dogs. Dogs were seen as psychopomps and they would help the souls of humans travel to the underworld. It really speaks to me, and I look forward to creating more art about that.
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
I have spent over a decade traveling around the U.S. and abroad, to meet animal rescuers and tell their stories / help their dogs. It’s incredible to me to see what a big community rescue people are. It’s really like a family. Most recently, I’d say the most inspiring people I met have been from a tiny rural community in Ecuador. I went to a free spay/neuter clinic there, and the village was mostly indigenous. People had to walk hours, under the rain, to bring their pets to be sterilized. It was incredible, hearing the stories of this community and their dogs, the challenges they face, and to see them rally together to do what’s best for their community and their dogs and cats. I gather stories and took photos of the families. I will treasure this moment forever!
Where do you draw inspiration from? Can you share a story about that?
My work is inspired by dogs, what we do to them and with them. I believe dogs are a prism through which we can not only observe humanity and understand it, but also better it. In stories of the Old World, dogs had so many previous lessons to teach humans. They are a fascinating link between the natural world and the human world. If we care to truly listen, we can become better guardian of our planet and the animals around us (and safer for each other too!).
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I’d like to think so! Over the years, I have helped countless rescue organizations. I hold fundraisers for them, especially when they have special projects or urgent needs. Each time a big brand hired me, I always insisted we feature shelter dogs, especially pit bulls. That’s how I got a rescue pit bull in an ad in Vogue magazine once! And most recently, Apple hired me to do a video about pet photography, and I insisted we do it at a shelter. It was amazing!
Of course, I also lost a lot of business opportunities, by hanging on to my beliefs a little too tight perhaps? But when you are so committed to a cause, it is very difficult to budge on things that are so important to you.
In supporting animal rescues, it is our community at large I want to support. Because animal welfare and human welfare go hand in hand. I look forward to finding ways to put this to good use right here in Los Angeles. I know the need is great!
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
I think I was probably told these things, but until it hits home, it’s really hard to apply advice to yourself! In any case, these would be some of my top choices:
- Stop thinking and start doing. Too often, we get stuck in our heads and the What ifs? But life only happens when you start doing. My career took off when I stopped fantasizing about some photo series I wanted to create, and instead started snapping away. I ended up creating a body of work that had nothing to do with my initial idea, and the project went viral (Wet Dog). I got a book deal, awards, exhibits… and it opened up my career.
- You have everything you need to start. That I really believe in. There was a time I didn’t have a proper computer, or camera, or a space to create. So I took whatever I had, and I started doing. I spent 10+ years creating art without having a proper studio. Even my photoshoots! Most were done at the animal shelter. Between a trash can and a table, I would set up a tiny studio and I did most of my work like that. The limitations are 100% in your head.
- Always be kind. Over the years, time and time again I have met people without realizing that they would transform my life one day. You just never know who holds the keys to your next chapter. So treat everyone with love and respect.
- Do not be afraid to pivot. Life is short, but it’s also really long! I have changed and pivoted so many times in my life. I used to feel like it was a sign of weakness. And sometimes I envy those who stay on one path and keep going. But pivoting has allowed me to build bigger, more exciting projects, to make a living with my work, and to expand my horizons like I never thought I could. Overall, it’s made for a more exciting life, too.
- Every once in a while, take a good hard look at yourself and your work. Without being mean to yourself, take stock of where you are, where you want to be, and ask yourself if you’ve done everything you should to get there. And what is not working. I used to feel defeated, before finding my voice. I was broke, my computer was full of photos of dogs I felt nobody would want. Then I realized I had not done the work. I hadn’t pushed my work as far as I should have. I had not reached out to blogs to be featured, or awards to get my work in front of juries. So I made a big push. I took risks. I let go of control and created the images that had been in my mind, and more. I let the moment dictate my next move. And once I found I had images that people resonated with, I submitted them to websites and juries. And all the doors opened…
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
We have so much work to do, as a species. I think people shouldn’t be afraid to question their beliefs once in a while. Stay curious, stay open, and understand you do not know everything. It’s very challenging because we love certainty. But curiosity is so important. Oh, and go to therapy. We all need it!
We have been blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she just might see this.
Right this second, honestly, if I could choose anyone to have breakfast or lunch with, it would be my grandmother who passed away, early pandemic back in France. She was my biggest supporter. I wish she could have seen my Los Angeles exhibit and how far I have come.
Over the years, I have found that people are quite accessible. At least the people who inspire me! So I’ve never been afraid to reach out, and I have met those who were inspirations. And I have found that we all have the same fears and face the same challenges. It’s been both incredibly freeing, and daunting. I had hoped someone, somewhere had answers for me. Turns out, we are all fumbling in the dark. And it’s normal and totally ok.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
Instagram and Facebook are my two main platforms (@SophieGamand).
I am also on LinkedIn. https://www.linkedin.com/in/sophie-gamand-01765316b/
And I have a Patreon account for those who want to support my work this way www.patreon.com/sophiegamand
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
Award Winning Photographer, Artist, and Dog Advocate Sophie Gamand: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.