The Online Photographer

Check out our new site at!

Monday, January 22, 2007

My Most Unforgettable Portrait Subject

By Ctein

About thirty years ago I was hired to illustrate an article on the big cats at Africa USA, a local theme park. This is the kind of assignment I love. I get along well with many animals (not all that fond of dogs, though) and I do especially well with both cats and birds (maybe I should get a job as a peace negotiator)—they both love me, just about without exception.

Here's the situation. Between rolls of film I'm sitting on a bench next to one of the trainers, making notes. A cheetah is there. Paper, pen, writing, cat deciding it's not the focus of attention (same old story). It lays down next to me, plops its head down in my lap and starts purring loudly. It's a pretty heavy head; think of your average house cat scaled up by a factor of 5–10. So to better distribute the weight, I slip my left hand under the head to cradle it and start scratching the cheetah behind the ears with my right hand. Cheetah is in bliss, and I'm pretty damn happy. This is all cool; it's found a new patsy, and I have a 70 lb. lap cat.

After fifteen or so minutes of this my left hand is getting a little tired holding up the cat's head; my right hand is definitely showing evidence of fatigue. Gently I lower the cheetah's head back onto my lap. It decides that is okay. I slowly ease up on the scratching behind the ears and after another minute take my right hand away .

Cheetah keeps purring for another 15 seconds, then stops. Thinks for several seconds. Then, without bothering to look up, the cheetah languidly raises a forepaw and goes SWIPE two inches from my ear. I hear the swoosh, feel the wind; it's a Kodak moment.

Cheetahs do not have retractable claws.

I resume scratching the cheetah behind the ears, the cheetah resumes purring, and order is restored.

Eventually I was rescued by the trainer. Otherwise I would still be there, scratching a happy, dominant cat behind its ears.

Contemplate this the next time you think you're having a problem with a portrait subject.

No, this is not my most unforgettable subject. Just a distant relative.

Posted by: CTEIN


Blogger WillT said...

What a great story--just what I needed!

9:39 PM  
Blogger Ernest Theisen said...

What a fun story. I am glad you missed the pass, but I am not sure I would hav noticed. BTW, I received you book. Good stuff, I have learned a lot. E

12:09 AM  
Blogger inner curmudgeon said...

I seriously doubt that you would still be there scratching the cheetah even if the keeper hadn't shown up. Sooner or later the cheetah would have decided that it needed to eat much more than it needed its ears scratched ;)

12:41 AM  
Blogger Bryce said...

Sounds like a real possible
CAT astrophe!

8:07 AM  
Blogger Albano Garcia said...

Really fun history! If you like cats, you should check my cat's blog.

4:39 PM  
Blogger creezy said...

I'm just jealous!

11:57 AM  
Blogger Janet said...

My encounter with a "loving" cat was similar from a 7 year olds perspective. OK, she was only 11 pounds. Her non-retractable claws were replaced by her ability to spray pee and growl. But when I was told not to stop scratching and why, basically I imagined the story you just shared. And yes, eventually I walked (ran) away wet, stinky and scared.

12:15 AM