Hannele Lahti’s series “Chewed” charts the destruction of dog toys by their canine owners. First begun when Lahti, who owns three Boston Terriers, noticed how disgusting stuffed animals had become in her pets’ possession, the series contains before-and-after diptychs of a variety of stuffed toys. In total, seven dogs were enlisted to help rip apart stuffed frogs, lions, lobsters and dragons.
In the end, Lahnti’s series, “Chewed,” tell a single truth: if you give a dog a toy, it will disfigure it to the best of its ability.
ASMP: How long have you been in business, and what are your photographic specialties?
Hannele Lahti: I’ve been in business since 2003, and currently specialize in two main subjects: dogs and the environment.
ASMP: What is unique about your style/approach, or what sets you and your work apart from other photographers?
HL: I’m constantly refining my style and approach by pursuing personal projects. These projects allow me to experiment with new techniques, build my creative voice and learn more about topics (and people) I care about.
Over the last three years, I’ve worked really hard to align my personal interests and passions with the type of work I pursue. I think this has led to a stronger, more authentic portfolio that I want to market.
ASMP: When did you start the before-and-after series about your dogs’ toys? How many dogs participated and how many of those are your own?
HL: I started the project in late 2013 after noticing how grotesque a green stuffed snake had become. I photographed the chewed-up snake, but felt in order to really understand how disgusting it was, the viewer had to see how cute it was in the beginning. My Boston Terriers were the original destroyers but, at this point, seven dogs have participated.
ASMP: How many toys have you photographed and how long do the dogs have with the toys before you take the “after” shot?
HL: So far, I’ve done 22 diptychs and have a few toys still in the “destruction” phase. The length of time between the photographs depends on the dog. My dogs take their time — from a few months to a year — to really make their mark on the toys. This is why I decided to bring other dogs into the project. All of the other dogs I’ve used have been pretty quick about it.
ASMP: How does the way they destroy their toys speak to their individual personalities?
HL: It’s funny — it seems all of the dogs have their own objectives when playing with the toys. One of my dogs, Annie, will suck on a toy for hours as if it’s a pacifier. Murray, my senior, removes the eyes before he de-stuffs it. A Newfoundland buried his for a few weeks while another snuggled with it for a month before systemically tearing it to shreds. Two of the others ripped theirs apart immediately then had no more interest in them.
I have not analyzed what any of this means about their personalities but it was interesting to see how different their methods were.
ASMP: You have used this project to promote yourself to clients. What type of clients, and how do you present the images?
HL: Originally, I showed the project as a way to finish a presentation to my stock agency, National Geographic Creative. I knew there were many dog lovers on staff so I figured they might respond to it. They loved it and encouraged me to continue. In fact, several of the other dogs I used were staff members’ pets.
Once I had a solid number of images, I launched it on my website with an e-mail promo and posts on social media. I followed up with a 6 x 6-inch accordion book featuring two of the pairings that I designed, printed and folded myself. Each book included a personal note. The book was featured on the site A Photo Editor last fall.
My targets are clients in the commercial and editorial industry that have a focus on dogs. For example, magazines and non-profits, as well as campaigns for dog food, toys and healthcare. I pulled the list together through personal contacts and Agency Access listings.
ASMP: What is your favorite piece of photographic gear that you own?
HL: I really like my Think Tank Airport International rolling camera bag. It makes traveling really easy.
ASMP: When did you join ASMP? What prompted you to join?
HL: I joined in 2003 during my final year at Rochester Institute of Technology. My professor recommended it as part of our photo business course.
ASMP: What is the best connection you have made through your ASMP membership?
HL: Meeting and working with my peers on the Washington, D.C. chapter board has been great. Developing friendships with people I trust and respect in the community has helped me tremendously as I continue to build my creative voice and business.