Photographer Marta Musa and Her Dressed-Up Pooches
I met Marta Musa 4 years ago during the Eastside Culture Crawl in Vancouver, BC, our biggest art event in the city that comes around in mid-November. She is a fabulous photographer with loads of humorous anecdotes, sarcasm, infectious laughter and full of sass! Her and her hubbie Gordon are just one of those couples that you instantly love and all around good people to know.
The first photography series that I saw of Marta’s was of her two pups dressed up to the nines in hilarious outfits with delightful poses and expressions. How she captures them is beyond me but people flocked to her booth grinning ear to ear, picking their favourites and laughing.
During this COVID-19 pandemic, we all need a little laughter to ease the stress and perhaps some inspiration of what we can do to photograph our own fur babies at home!
What are the names and breed of your dogs?
We have two pups. Fred (aka Frederico Beloba Beneflores Bunnito) a 7.5-year-old super-mutt that we are convinced is an extremely rare Canadian Dingo (he strongly resembles a breed called the Carolina Dog). Our other child is Carmela (aka Carmela Juanita Kitty Midgy Fudge Doodee-Doodee Undici) a 6.5-year-old short mutt that we think is a combination of Dachshund, Jack Russel, and Tasmanian Devil. Both dogs were rescues and joined our family as young adults.
The answer is I pay my models very well. Exceedingly well. Bacon, peanut butter, liver, chickum (aka chicken), cheese etc. The dogs are very food motivated and eager to learn a new trick if it pays off in delicious treats.
The weekly costumed photoshoots started with our older boy in 2015. I had just been in a motor vehicle accident and was rehabbing at home from a variety of injuries, including a brain injury that eventually meant a significant change in my lifestyle. I could no longer safely participate in my street and travel photography, and wasn’t very tolerant of normal world stimuli, but I still needed to create and had to find a new creative outlet.
So as a gag, my husband (a fellow photog) and I dressed up Fred thinking it would be a one-off shoot. But Freddy was such a trooper, making direct eye contact with the lens and patiently waiting for the treat that sat above the lens. And before we knew it it was a weekly tradition and both dogs were as into it as we were. Getting dressed up in costumes for treats is such a normalized fun activity in our house that if I were to pick up an outfit, wig or hat and hold it up, both dogs would leap and dance trying to put the item on….because…well because Bacon/Cheese/Chicken.
The inspiration for their looks usually comes from one of three sources. A request from the kids in our lives (“Auntie Marta make Freddy a Princess please!”), current affairs (we dressed up Fred as Severus Snape when Alan Rickman passed) and random ideas the hubby and I come up when we are digging through the piles of wigs and dog outfits we seem to have amassed (ohhh…lets dress Carmela up as a pirate wench!!).
How much training did you do to get them to sit still for the photos?
We have a family tradition of training often with our dogs to help us build a stronger connection with them. This went a very long way in helping us direct the crazy wild energy both the babies have. So, before we started the project the kids knew to sit and pay attention to us when we asked them to.
We leveraged that training and used it to reward progressively longer and longer periods of sitting…while wearing whatever random outfit we had put on them. We put words like “Hold It” to the desired behaviour, and then rewarded it like crazy.
What do I mean by “rewarded it like crazy?”. If Fred and Carmela were able to “Hold it” for the period we asked, their Dad (who is usually the handler while I took the pictures) would “Make it Rain”….handful of bacon treats would fall from the sky and we would all dance and celebrate their awesomeness. Because the payoff was so big, Fred and Carmela learned it was worth it to get dressed, hold still and pay attention to the camera. Heck, I bet you would let anyone dress you up in strange outfit and pose you if they threw platters of bacon/donuts/steaks/cheese/cake/money at you at the end of it all.
What are some tricks you use to get them to look at the camera?
The easiest trick is to hold a high value item right above the lens. In our kids’ case they both adore food, so we started by teaching them that if they looked right into my lens, my hand would dispense treats. It didn’t take them long to learn that I wanted them to stare right into the camera every time it made an appearance.
The only caveat I can offer when it comes to this strategy is to make sure the item you are using as the reward is exciting enough to get them to pay attention, but not so exciting that they are beyond their threshold and can not focus. Carmela is a tennis ball fanatic. To the point that if I were to hold one of her “babies” above my camera, she would tackle me to rescue it. So, tennis balls are off the list. For Fred the challenge was picking a treat that he really wanted…but wouldn’t turn on his rather over active drool faucets. So, we learned very quickly not to use treats like kangaroo or ham with him.
Who is more photogenic, Freddy or Carmela?
Dad – Definitely Fred. He always does exactly what he is asked…and is so very, very, very, very handsome. So much handsomeness.
Mom – Definitely Carmela. She gives so much face, she is so expressive. You could shoot 10 frames and get 10 different expressions. So much attitude.
Do you sell images of your dogs?
The photography project has been a therapeutic tool for me and wasn’t really intended for a commercial purpose. However, we learned very early into our weekly costumed shoots that the images brought others as much pleasure as creating them brought us.
- Hugabull Advocacy & Rescue Society a registered non-profit organization that focuses on rescuing dogs, providing public education and building a community of responsible pit bull owners and supporters.
- La Gonave Community and Child Association (LGCCA) is a Canadian non-profit organization whose vision is to assist the residents of La Gonave Island, Haiti in a sustainable way that promotes dignity and hope. The assistance focuses on nutrition, clean water, financial support for medical care, safe housing and education. The organizations belief is that this support will enable the community to thrive in a sustainable manner.
Which is your favourite photograph that you’ve taken?
Ohhhh…this is an unfair question to ask. I couldn’t pick a picture of one kid over the other. The compromise would be to pick one of each pup…but even that is an impossible task. It is too difficult to just pick one single costumed portrait of each child. They are all too cute. I love all the “final” portraits of each shoot…but I have to admit I really really really have an affinity for the ridiculous outtakes where the kids wigs fall off, or they start drooling, or forget to keep their tongues in their mouths. I’m going to just abstain from selecting one picture for this and will offer a range of images for your to decide on. I scrolled through thousands of pictures and just kept finding a new favorite every 5 minutes. How about we just agree they are all my favorite photographs.
What model camera and lighting do you use and why?
I’m a natural light shooter and my camera, Luthor, is a beautiful beast of a Fujifilm X-Pro2. I generally pair him up with the XF 23mm f/1.4 from Fujifilm and occasionally the XF 56 mm f/1.2 from Fujifilm. When it comes to pet photography, Luthor is the perfect size to allow one handed operation and hardy enough to put up with the occasional dog tackle. It doesn’t hurt that he is also a stunning piece of machinery.
In my street and travel photography life, I’ve found the smaller more discrete size of Luthor to be a significant advantage. He has made for a much lighter camera bag and more opportunities for anonymous images. And on the occasions when I’ve approached strangers for portraits, they tend to be more relaxed and less intimidated by Luthor.
Despite his more compact size, Luthor has never failed me and I am always happy with the work we create together.
Do you apply any post processing to your images?
I use Lightroom to extensively catalogue and organize my work. Part of my workflow when organizing my work has been to do some post processing in Lightroom. I’m not the most proficient at post processing so I try my very best to get exactly what I want in camera and just add a tiny dusting of magic in Lightroom.
About Marta Musa
“I am a Canadian storyteller, photographer, artist, humor writer, creative, lucky wife, mama to a homicidal millennial Turtle (Zoo) and two obnoxious spoiled pups (Freddy & Carmela), former Critical Care RN, living with a brain injury (aka Bertha).
My previous works were influenced by the stories I saw travelling the world. But that has changed in the last few years courtesy of a car accident and “Bertha” (my ever present head injury).
“Bertha” has not only radically changed the way I perceive and process information, she has influenced how my creative endeavors translates into a final product. This shift has inspired works that explore the sense of disjointedness and chaos that comes with a brain injury.
Whether or not the creative force behind the story is Bertha or something else (e.g my reactive little dog that constantly barks profanities at the neighbors…heavens help me), I always use humor and my art to re-frame life in a positive way. I love to tell my stories from the viewpoint of the darker places. I have always believed that the richest stories of humanity are found in those spaces where light encroaches on darkness. I never find these shadow spaces to be sinister; instead they are filled with optimism, hope and joy. That positivity is what you will see in all my works; spanning the range from photography to mixed media pieces to encaustic paintings.
All Images © Marta Musa, and used with permission.