Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Harry Whittier Frees - Original LOL Cat Photographer

With Nancy J. Farrier

Funny or cute pictures of cats are very popular today. Who doesn’t love to see cats in boxes or bags, cats attacking, or cat bloopers? Social media is full of such pictures and videos. 

Harry Whittier Frees has been hailed as the original LOL cat photographer. Long before cat pictures were so popular Harry began to photograph them, using the photos in books for children or on postcards.

The Wedding
Frees was born in Pennsylvania in 1879 and lived there most of his life. His career began by accident at a family party. In the midst of the frivolity, the partygoers began to pass around a party hat as a joke, trying it on different people. Someone put the pointy hat on the cat’s head and Harry took a picture. The picture caught the attention of a postcard manufacturer and they purchased Harry photo. The image was such a success that Harry’s new career was born.

Frees always used live animals for his sessions. He spent a lot of time cajoling and working with the critters. He worked with rabbits, dogs, and cats, but said the cats were the easiest to photograph. He was required to have incredible patience and knew that most of his shots would not be usable. He even used a pig in a photo, but said working with the pig was hard.

The most difficult part of his job had to do with fashioning the costumes for his pictures. Some accounts said his mother did all the sewing for him and other accounts said his housekeeper made the clothes. Either way the small articles would have been interesting to make, not to mention putting them on the animals.

The work proved to be so stressful that Harry would only take pictures three months of the year. The rest of the time he would spend in rest and preparation for the next photo shoot. Finding new ideas that would appeal challenged him. He also wrote books featuring his subjects in short vignettes.

In his book, The Little Folks of Animal Land, Frees wrote: “The difficulties encountered in posing kittens and puppies for pictures of this kind have been overcome only by the exercise of great patience and invariable kindness. My little models receive no especial training, and after their daily performance before the camera they enjoy nothing better than a frolic about the studio.”

The Cook

Harry never married, but spent his life working and caring for his parents. After their deaths, he moved to Florida and lived alone there. He became despondent after being diagnosed with cancer. At age 74, Frees took his own life. The paper that reported the incident didn’t even mention his lifelong work and wonderful pictures of whimsical animals.

The Nurse
The Birthday Cake

I hope you enjoyed looking at these pictures. There are many more and I couldn't include them all. If you want to see more of these entertain photos click here and scroll through. The images always make me smile and wonder how Mr. Frees ever managed to do this. 

Nancy J Farrier is an award winning author who lives in Southern California in the Mojave Desert. She loves the Southwest with its interesting historical past. Nancy and her husband have five children and two grandsons. When Nancy isn’t writing, she loves to read, do needlecraft, play with her cats, and spend time with her family. Nancy is represented by Karen Ball of The Steve Laube Literary Agency. You can read more about Nancy and her books on her website:


  1. Thank you for the interesting post, Nancy. What great pictures!

  2. Adorable! Thanks for sharing. I loved this! :)

  3. What adorable pictures! Thanks for sharing. Who knew this went on so long ago. :)

  4. Those are very cute pictures! I can't imagine the patience he had to dress the animals up and create the poses. I do not think my cats would be very fond of me if I tried doing that. Thank you!

  5. My cat gets upset when someone tries to put a hat or harness on her and her chief goal is to get it off.
    Can't imagine how Mr. Frees ever managed to pose the animals for his cute and whimsical photos!