In the summer of 2013 I learned about a new breed of longhair European cats - German Longhair. Since then I've met and befriended many breeders as well as advocates for this balanced, harmonious breed. One of such advocates is young Undis Herder. Barely out of high school, she already has an impressive portfolio. Last year she spent some time with a breeder in Hanover, at Cattery Vom Leineufer. In addition to helping deliver the babies, she captured the first moments of their lives. Could she be the new Helmi Flick in the world of cat photography?
MJN: You are very accomplished for being so young. Your photos are very professional looking. Did you take classes in photography, or was it self-taught? Do you think that certain amount of formal instruction is necessary?
UH: I never took a class in photography. One day, I read in a cat book about adjustments for action pictures and I started to take photos in the manual modus with my little digital camera. A few months later I bought myself a reflex camera and learned through playing with the menu. Even today I discover new functions sometimes. I think this is the more effective way to learn photography, because in a class you learn many things at once and there's no time to internalize each step. Even though I think that a few instruction in the beginning can be helpful to get a general idea of the material.
MJN: You manage to catch cats in motion, licking their fangs, rolling their eyes. What kind of high-speed equipment do you use to capture those moments?
UH: I don't use any special equipment. My DSLR is a regular one from the lower middle-class. My lenses aren't expensive too, but they do their job. I have a small prime lens I use mostly to take cat pictures, because it's very light-transmissive. Therefore, the only thing I do is creating extra light when I take photos indoor to guarantee a high quality, then I use a softbox, no flash.
MJN: Last summer you spent some time with Nicole, the owner of Shoreline Cattery in Hanover. What were some of the most precious, most moving moments that you witnessed?
UH: As I spend my time there, I helped her bearing and raising the kittens. The birth of those little creatures was very special and emotional time. It was great to be a team with the cat and it felt good to be able helping the cat and make the energy-sapping process a little easier. The kittens were pretty sweet and I took many photos of them in the three weeks I was there. They grew up so fast and that's what I live photography for, it helps to keep memories alive.
MJN: There is clearly competition among cat breeders, whose line is purer, whose cats meet the standards. As a photographer, do you think of the cats' adherence to the standard when you photograph them, or do you just see them as beautiful creatures?
UH: I found to photography through my tomcat and because of him I also know many cat breeders. I'm in love with the German Longhair and I keep busy with them since three years now. I'd like to breed these wonderful cats myself one day, so I judge the cats with the standard. But when I take photos, the type of a cat is incidental. I concentrate on their eyes and position and if they are relaxed and have fun.
I think all those physical aspects are just for fun and have nothing to do with the essence of individuals. Also the fight between the breeders is mostly just to bag their ego, no line is purer than the other and the standard is rather unclear, so that everyone can interpret it in a different way.
MJN: Do you believe that German Longhair has potential for gaining world fame, or is this breed going to be confined to Germany as a national treasure?
UH: I think that we have to create a solid population and a strong community between the breeders first, to establish a breeding programme that works at its best. The German Longhair has a hard comeback because of tensions between the breeders and rumors around them. Now it's time to forget the past and concentrate on the cats. The German Longhair is a breed without extremes but with a beautiful character, so I think they have the potential to be famous in the whole universe. But first, as I mentioned, the breed has to become more established. And on the other hand I'm skeptical with high profile, because the cats start to become overbred, as we can see in Maine Coons and Persians. Additional, there are many untrustworthy breeders without club, making money with the kittens and don't care for them well who gain profit of a fancy breed.