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Photographs of Rabbit Breeders and Their Award Winning Bunnies

kate kunath

Kate Kunath earned a BFA in photography from the University of Washington in Seattle. In her practice, she has sought to discover and illuminate the consequences of modern life, confront cultural mythologies, and challenge what we think we know. Provoked by themes of reproduction, modernization, and globalization. She has produced one series per year since arriving in New York in 2004. By focusing in depth on one topic at a time, Kate develops a personal and artistic investment in illuminating what naturally emerges from this investigation. With humor and tenderness, narratives develop organically, and the symmetry in nature and the human experience is explored.

kate kunath

Do you have a favorite rabbit in the series?
‘There are 45-50 breeds in total and it’s very hard to choose a favorite. Most of the breeders don’t have names for their champs because they don’t keep them as pets, so it’s hard to keep track of their names. I’m a sucker for the Angora rabbits, as in the angora sweater. One of my favorite moments was visiting the hall where they blow dry and comb out the angora hair. It was like a big tranny parlor. The biggest hair you have ever seen on any animal. It was fantastic. One of my favorite jobs at the show is the Breeding Chairman. He or she must be present when any of the breeders are planning to mate their rabbits. Sometimes the service is free, but other times they have to pay for the sex if the genetic material is valuable enough’.

kate kunath

How did you get into shooting bunnies with their owners and where and how were these photos captured?
‘Well, it’s always been a dream of mine to photograph rabbit breeders. I got my big break in 2004 at the American Rabbit Breeders Convention. I’m kidding, but there really is a Best in Show for bunnies every year, similar to the Westminster for dogs, without the high brow. The first time I went to a show, I was really impressed by the rabbit breeders, so I returned the following year with a photo studio. The rabbit Standard of Perfection is attained through a regimen of breeding and selecting, much more rapidly than a dog breeder, for example. Which means that they are culling, a process of removing the undesirable genes from the pool, by way of killing the rabbits for food or fur, or giving them to pet stores to sell. It doesn’t sound very pleasant coming from me but the rabbit breeders have a very eloquent way of stating things when it comes to the cycle of life. They are also very professional, as one can see from their expressions. Even proud. Their rabbits as subjects took away some of the anxiety of having their own portraits done. The portrait studio I set up at the show was well attended. I did over 100 portraits in a weeks time’.

kate kunath

The expressions of the owners holding the rabbits are almost as memorable as the rabbits themselves. Were their reactions spontaneous, or was it more the result of prompting on your behalf?
‘As a general rule in my photography, I am always letting my subjects know that they don’t have to smile. You’d be surprised, if people don’t have to smile, they generally don’t. And then there are others who just can’t help themselves. I found that if I asked them to relax and not smile they understood that I was attempting to take them seriously. Most of the time, no matter their expression, I was behind the camera thinking to myself, ‘Oh my god, can this be real?’ There was one instance where the rabbit breeder was in a very good mood, and we were both laughing, so I went to press the shutter and just as I did his angora rabbit let out a big yawn. It happened so quickly that I wasn’t sure I had it, but when I got the film back I could see that I had captured a full set of yawning teeth- the only visible feature of the rabbit other than the fur. So there is room for spontaneity within this model. However, because taking humorous or ironic pictures in this situation was like shooting fish in a barrel, I thought it was a more just representation of the rabbit breeders if I tried to convey them as they saw themselves: as dignified, specialized professionals’.

Can you tell us about the equipment that you used for this shoot?
‘I shot this project with film using a Fugi 680, a medium format camera that has swings and tilts like a 4×5. I liked it because it gave me a little extra length in the torso and allowed me to keep both the rabbits and the people in focus’.

kate kunath

  • Opal

    Culling does not necessarily mean killing or selling to a pet store. This misconception is what gives breeders a bad name among pet rabbit enthusiasts. Culling simply means to remove from the breeding herd. This can be as simple as neutering a male and keeping him as a house rabbit, which I have done. The majority of rabbit breeders do not kill their culls, though of course, some do. Many of us cannot stomach the idea. One of my best rabbit breeder friends is a vegetarian, and the very thought of eating one of her rabbits is enough to make her sick. She has (and I had) national winning rabbits, and this with having never killed a cull (other than euthanizing a rabbit that was beyond medical help, as any loving pet owner would do) or selling to a pet shop.

    Rabbits make amazing companion animals. They are social, loving, and very intelligent. I raised and showed rabbits for over a decade, and every single one had a name. They all have their own personalities, likes, and dislikes. Different breeds have different normal personalities. Himalayans tend to be extremely calm rabbits, but they are delicate in build so do not make good pets for young children. Havanas, while more plain-looking, are generally both calm and relatively sturdy.

    Please, if interested in a rabbit, do your research. They make just as good a companion as a dog or cat (better, in my opinion), but you have to give them a chance to be a companion, not just a caged animal. Research to find out what breed will best suit your family. Then adopt a rabbit from a shelter or rescue (they often come already spayed or neutered, which saves you the time, hassle, and money of getting it done yourself) or from a reputable breeder. You simply cannot be sure of the history or healthy of a pet store rabbit. A reputable rescue or breeder can help you find the perfect rabbit for your family, as different rabbits will do best in different situations. A pet store, in general, is just out to sell, sell, sell and move stock along as quickly as possible. Even in the best of situations, this particular setting does not favor the buyer getting the ideal rabbit or getting the information and lifetime resource that a rescue or breeder can provide.

  • Rabittlover

    The asian lady is practically strangling hers by not supporting their bun bums. Also, shows are stressy, about as stressy as you being showed naked. Just as a comparison. For them shows are noisy and scary, and few breeders care.

  • Cindy

    To Rabittlover:
    No, She is not strangling the rabbits, they are being held about the midsection, just like you would hold a small dog, cat or even a toddler. The rabbits are very docile and are obviously not stressed by this handling. As for shows being stressful, for your untrained or poorly bred pet rabbit yes a rabbit show would be stressful. However these rabbits are bred for this, they are trained from weaning to be handled a certain way, they are specifically selected for docile, easy going temperaments. I’ve had many show rabbits who show excitement, eagerness and even pleasure at shows, they like the attention, they like the fuss that is made over them. As for comparing them to being ‘showed naked’ rabbits are naked, they are not naturally inclined to cover their bodies, a rabbit is not ashamed of it’s natural state. Please be respectful, your preconceived prejudices are shining through.

  • Jim Stork

    Breeders give themselves a bad name. Rabbits deserve rights like everyone else’s pet friends.