Chances are that you’ve seen Los Angeles-based photographer Grace Chon’s work, you might just not know her name. Chon is a noted pet photographer who has had not one but two series of pet photos go viral. Her latest to make its rounds on the internet? “HAIRY,” a project dedicated to the art of Japanese-style grooming.
Chon says she isn’t quite sure why this one was received so well, but has a feeling it has something to do with the makeover aspect of the project.
“Whether it’s a makeover of your face or a makeover of someone’s bathroom, I think there’s just an inherent fascination with that,” Chon says. “The idea of seeing a ‘before’ and ‘after’ of a dog’s haircut was really interesting because a lot of times you see the dog after and they don’t even look the same.”
But why Japanese-style grooming? And what, exactly, is Japanese-style dog grooming?
“Japanese dog grooming is basically a style of grooming that makes the dog look as cute as possible,” says Chon. Groomers throw regular rules out the window and work to highlight the naturally cute features of the dog. Although Chon’s two dogs aren’t regularly groomed, she says she always looking for new and eye-catching trends.
The “HAIRY” project came together in a very serendipitous way. She’d just learned about Japanese dog grooming, and had asked staff at the California-based dog food and services chain The Healthy Spot (which opened in 2008, the same year Chon started her photography business) if they’d heard of it before. The staff had just been trained in the technique, and the idea for “HAIRY” was born.
Despite the dogs’ cheerful expressions in the snaps, she says many of the dogs weren’t happy campers during the photo shoots.
“What’s crazy is that I think maybe only one of these dogs actually liked being photographed,” Chon says. “There was just one that felt comfortable enough to just sit there and let me photograph it. The rest of them, I probably got like three really good shots of them.”
Each dog was groomed and photographed at The Healthy Spot’s Studio City location. Chon provided the groomers with no direction other than, “do something amazingly adorable.” She says watching the groomers work was like magic.
“Grooming is such an art form,” she says. “I will never take it for granted.”
The head groomer’s dog, Athena, passed away not long after the photo shoot. It was the dog’s first time being professionally photographed. “It was nice to pay tribute to her,” she says.
Chon normally spends her days shooting commercial and editorial work. With specials projects, like “HAIRY,” she’s ultimately trying to add a unique element to her portfolio.
“I’m Korean American. When you come from a family of immigrants, you kind of have a very limited option of what your future jobs can be. And artist and pet photographer are not up at the top of the list,” she says.
She started photographing dogs for a rescue group to help them get adopted and, after having to turn down one too many assignments because of the pressures of her day job, she finally went full-time as a freelance photographer. Since then, she’s transitioned exclusively to editorial and commercial work.
When she’s looking at a dog through her lens, her eye is drawn to what makes the dog special—a feature that makes her work stand out from the pack.
“When I look at a dog, I know what I want to photograph,” she says. “I gravitate towards things that look different. I like dogs that have a uniqueness to them that are a little bit weird. I love dogs with funny underbites, funny quirky ears, little duck feet.”
Photos courtesy of Grace Chon.