Interview: Sasha Jordan of The Magnificent 7 Cats!
Our readers may be familiar with our recent M7 post, featuring pictures of Rocky, Dr Prince, Junior, Ugs, Princess Pixie, Tom and Norman. Frankly, we were very impressed with the quality of the images.
—Not only that, but their statement of what they are about is striking:
“Cats, for us, are the very essence of pure, unconditional love. Some may seem aloof; some a bit needy; some graceful and sleek; others bumbling and almost dog-like. But what they all have in common is honesty and purity. We adore our cats. We want to be a force for good.
M7 transcends ‘cute cats’; it’s broader and deeper than that. M7 is about family and community love and kindness of spirit. It’s also about saying ‘NO’ to negativity because great love means great strength.”
We couldn’t have put it any better! Thank you for inspiring us and taking the time to share your story Sasha!
CB: First of all, how did you end up with seven cats?
SJ: I suppose I’m fairly new to cats. I bought my first, Rocky – a Turkish Van cross with British Blue in 2007
And Dr. Prince – my first Ragdoll – a few weeks later.
– But I soon had the bug and two wasn’t going to be enough.
Shortly after, the owner of a local pet shop told me about a Persian they had rescued; his owner was unable to look after him. They said they’d never met such sweet natured, loving boy.
I went over to meet him and there was no question – Ugs was coming right home with me!
About a year later I’d been stunned by a gorgeous white Turkish Van with bi-colour eyes I’d seen at the same pet shop.
We quickly discovered a special bond and Junior came home shortly after.
And later in 2008 my beautiful Chocolate, a blue-eyed, seal point Ragdoll, joined his brother Prince to bring my cat family to five.
I’d been modelling professionally for over twenty years at this point, chiefly in Turkey and the UK and more recently in Texas. I worked as a tour model with rock bands (artists like Ozzy Osbourne and Pantera), introducing them on-stage at huge festivals.
It was a fun job but it inevitably meant spending weeks away from home. I decided to ditch my leathers and quit tour modelling to spend more time at home in London after meeting my fiancée, Steven in 2009.
We moved into our new home in London in September 2010: Prince, Rocky, Ugs, Junior and Chocolate joined us, of course.
SJ: Later that year, disaster struck.
My beloved ragdoll, Chocolate was involved in an accident on a busy road near home; he died at the scene.
I felt devastated and utterly bereft. He was irreplaceable.
After a great deal of soul-searching, we decided we’d look for another cat. Princess Persephone (Pixie) was born on Valentine’s Day 2011 and she (the only girl of the seven) joined us that May
Followed by Tomerine (Tom) in late 2012:
We agreed that six cats was probably ‘it’. Until, that is, we saw a photo of Norman on his breeder’s website. He looked so utterly helpless – he was the runt of his litter and nearly didn’t make it.
We fell in love with him and he was home with us as soon as he was well enough.
So that made seven, a perfect number for us.
CB: When did you decide that you would take pictures of your cats, and were you at all inspired by the tens of thousands of Instagram cat photographers?
SJ: I’d always been keen on taking photos on my iPhone; just snap-shots for Facebook and so on.
When Tom arrived in 2012 he was just so unmentionably cute with his teddy-bear looks and googly eyes. I’d always loved seeing other peoples’ cat pictures on-line and I was excited to show-off my own so I posted a few pictures of Tom on Facebook.
He was an instant hit and my friends loved him.
Encouraged by the warm, fuzzy feeling you get when someone compliments your cat (!), I decided to set-up a fan page for all seven cats, and The Magnificent 7 Cats was born.
I’d never intended that the name would stick – we usually call them The Mag7 Cats – but here we are almost three years later with nearly a million FB friends. The appetite for regular, nicely-produced photos was almost insatiable.
My fiancé has a really good camera with some excellent lenses. Using simple tricks like shallow depth of field, big close-ups and careful composition – and having very pretty cats – makes for impactful pictures.
It’s always such fun to publish a new picture on Facebook and see likes in their hundreds and thousands coming in immediately. It really feels like your broadcasting something lovely into the world which brightens peoples’ day, even for just a second.
CB: For a beginner learning about animal photography, what kind of advice would you give?
SJ: I’m not going to get into recommending cameras or equipment or advising on technique. There are plenty of on-line resources that do that very well indeed and, frankly, I’m no expert. But here are a few more general pointers you might consider if you’re photographing your pets:
• Know your pet. Watch them carefully and study their behaviour. Observe how they sit, walk, lie. Or that quirky way they tilt their head. Consider what aspect of your pet is the most distinctive or attractive – what makes them them. If you can capture that, you’ll have something distinctive.
• Look carefully at other photographers’ work. What draws you to a picture? Cuteness? Colour? Composition? There’s no shame in trying to emulate their techniques with your own animals and your pictures will improve the more you practise.
• Think carefully about the environment for the photo and especially the background. Messy, disorganised backgrounds distract from even the best looking animals. If your photo is 10% cat and 90% clutter it may lack impact.
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• Focus, focus, focus! Always make sure that the subject of your picture is pinsharp. And make sure you set your camera / have enough light to avoid blurred images.
• Think about depth of field, i.e. how much of the picture beyond your subject will be in focus. A nice soft background can set-off your pet beautifully, removing distractions for your viewers.
• Purchase a small LED photo light; they’re available for very little money. Before you take your shot, try to get some light onto the face and particularly the eyes of your animal. A pinprick of light (a ‘catch light’) in your pet’s eyes can really bring your shot to life.
• Learn Photoshop! You can purchase the ‘light’ version of the application quite cheaply and there are loads of good tutorials on YouTube. Being able to correct for exposure and colour problems, crop, and adjust your pictures is very useful.
• Don’t forget to add a watermark to your picture. It’s not essential but if your picture is shared widely on-line it’s nice to be able to see who shot it!
CB: How do you resolve fights between your cats, if they ever fight?
SJ: I’m actually quite lucky. You’d think having seven cats in the same house would be a recipe for trouble. There are tensions, though. Dr Prince and Rocky – the two eldest – vie for the top slot. If they meet on the stairs or in a doorway invariably one of them will sit down to block the other and they’ll have a face-off. They rarely get physical but they do make that ‘crying baby’ noise.
Generally a stern look or word of warning from Steven or I is enough to split them up. They know they’re misbehaving and they hate being caught.
And Pixie didn’t get her nick-name ‘Thuggy’ for nothing. She has a mean left-hook and is only too happy to use it on Norman when he dotes on her a bit too much!
CB: Have there been any funny adventures to speak of for the seven?
SJ: Being largely indoor cats the scope for ‘physical’ adventure is pretty limited (although I’m pretty sure that Rocky and Junior get into all sorts of trouble when they leave the house. A neighbour’s 8 kittens were evidence of Rocky’s ‘sense of adventure’ before he was neutered!).
Dr Prince and Princess Pixie had a trip into central London recently to do a test shoot with an advertising agency. The client, an international frozen seafood company, wanted a cat to star in a series of TV commercials and press ads and our two were invited along.
They hated it! Both of them – particularly Pixie – are usually so natural in front of a camera (at home) that they will actually pose. But with a room full of strangers, in a strange environment with no time to acclimatize I’m afraid nerves got the better of both of them and they didn’t want to play.
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CB: Do you plan on making even more videos, like the one featured above?
SJ: Absolutely! Steven works in the TV industry and knows lots of professional crew who are keen to work with the cats. We have several short films in the pipeline but finding time to pull everyone together is tricky.
And to have the faintest hope of persuading seven cats to co-operate (the phrase ‘it’s like herding cats’ is very resonant in our house) we’ll need a good few days shooting. We’ll do it but probably not until we move from central London to a house with much more outside space.
The promo film introducing the cats, was basically cut from footage Steven shot when testing a new camera. We wrote a script and tagged the voice-over recording onto the end of a session being done for a completely unrelated film!
That said, we’re very excited to be working with children’s author Timothy Knapman and animation company Trainor Davies on a series of animations/cartoons featuring the cats. We’re still at the pre-production stage and we have a way to go but I think the result will be well worth the wait.
Watch this space!
CB: What type of camera do you use and what have you learned works best when photographing cats naturally?
SJ: I use a selection of cameras ranging from my iPhone 6 (because it’s always there), to a small Canon PowerShot G15 which is small and un-intrusive, right up to a heavyduty Canon EOS 1DC with lenses ranging from 9 – 400 mm.
Very often we’ll take snapshots with available light (in the garden, the sitting room or wherever) and fix them up in Photoshop. When there’s time we’ll set and light an area more carefully. I’ll often buy props to dress the set, too. We did this earlier this year for our Valentine’s Day shoot and got some lovely shots.
CB: What is your impression of the super celebrity cats on Instagram, like Grumpy cat?
SJ: The more cats the better! I think it’s wonderful that celebrity cats attract so much attention although I also find it deeply puzzling.
I think sometimes the cult of celebrity overtakes the loveliness of an individual cat and the ‘brand’ becomes a simple commodity – a vehicle for memes and inane captions. OK, everyone can join in which is great, but it’s less about the cat and more about the phenomenon.
This is something I am very careful to avoid with the Mag7 Cats. I am adamant that by spreading pictures of the Mag7 we are spreading love; putting something positive into the world. That’s why I always read comments on threads, respond to as many as I can and share other cats’ pages. Sharing cats is sharing love.
We did have a call a couple of years ago from the Mother agency in New York inquiring about using Tomerine for a well-known mobile phone company’s ad campaign. They asked us to fly Tom out to LA for a shoot but we politely declined as I didn’t like the idea of Tom travelling that far.
The health and well-being of my cats always comes first. Would have been fun, though!
CB: Do you support any causes ?
SJ: There are so many powerful and worthwhile causes that we identify with many. We have a large and growing audience of cat-lovers across the world; this is a powerful channel. Whereas The Mag7 Cats are apolitical, I am very happy to promote the any worthy cause.
I’m always happy to receive in-box messages from any organization who believes they could use our help.
Seeing cats – or any animal – in distress breaks my heart. We sometimes do fundraisers on the Mag7 page to help people struggling with unexpected vet fees and we are big fans of Empty Meow Corral who do great work with feral cats in Naples, Florida. I try to promote their page often.
CB: What’s the most important thing to consider, if there is one person out there, before getting seven cats ? Any advice for multi-cat families?
SJ: As any cat-lover will tell you, cats are members of your family; they’re like your kids. Each has their own individual needs and requirements. Consider whether you have enough time in your life to give each cat the love and attention they deserve.
The other thing is money.
You’ll need the resources to do your best for each cat; to provide the best food and environment you can. And – and this is a major one – vet fees. Good, comprehensive medical insurance for one cat can be £650 ($1000) a year – multiply that by 7!
On the upside, your house buzzes with unconditional love 24 hours a day!
CB: Do you have a favourite?
SJ: Of course – doesn’t every mum? But that’s something I’ll keep under my hat!
**** THE END ****
Do you have any questions for Sasha?
Post a comment below, or on The Magnificent 7 Cats fan page on Facebook.
Thank you for reading! We hope you enjoyed the interview.