If you went to the Maine Agricultural Trades Show in January and admired the cover of the annual event’s program, which featured some supremely handsome Belted Galloways in the snow, then you’ve had a glimpse of photographer Catherine Frost’s work. The Freeport photographer has carved out a niche for herself shooting livestock and farms around Maine. We called her up to ask how she got into farm photography and learned a few things about marketing and why it is so important to get a sheep to look you in the eye.
ANIMAL PLANET: Frost, who has a show of her animal photography up at Brunswick restaurant/gallery Frontier through March 5, came to photography by way of Valentine’s Day at Planet Dog. “We had a kissing contest.” Wait, let’s unpack that. Frost grew up in Millinocket and moved to Topsham at age 10. She worked at L.L. Bean in operations for 13 years and then was the director of marketing for Planet Dog for seven years. They’d started an annual contest (ongoing) to see which owner could get their dog to kiss them the longest. (Peanut butter was often involved.) “I wanted to be able to share this with people to show the fun things we were doing at the store.” So she bought a small hand-held digital camera and started to have some fun with it.
A WINDOW OPENS: Making photographs was still just a hobby when Frost unexpectedly lost her job at Planet Dog about 10 years ago. “It was one of those things where you panic at first, but it was the absolute, positively best thing that could have happened.” She started doing her “own thing,” which included building websites and doing contract work for small companies around the Northeast. She added her own photographs to the sites she was building.
“That way we don’t have to get stock photography and things are more authentic.” At a Graze event (Pineland Farms’ nod to farm-to-table dining, which Frost helped develop) a few years ago, Frost encountered Lisa Webster of North Star Sheep Farm, and the two hit it off. Frost signed on to turn North Star’s blog into a real website. She also shot photos for the farm’s Instagram account for about a year. And she discovered that dogs kissing people was fun, but livestock was better. “I basically love taking images of animals.”
FARM TO PHOTO: The whole photography thing is self-taught: “All trial and error.” And lots of time watching National Geographic tutorials online. “You have to go for the best.” While some of her work on farms is paid, she still does a lot of shooting for pure joy. Sometimes that leads to work.
That was the case with one of her favorite farms, Mitchell Ledge, which is near her home in Freeport. Frost had pulled over to photograph the Belted Galloways (they’re the ones on the cover of the Ag Trades show program). “Everybody can get a shot from the side of the road. But what I chose to do is contact the farmer and ask if I could have permission to go on the farm.” (That’s her strategy, so much so that at Wolfe’s Neck Farm she’s become a regular.)
She and farmer Andy LeMaistre did some talking and at a certain point he asked. “Don’t you do other things?” He wanted to know if she’d help with his website. And maybe with Facebook, which he has a bit of a Venus-Mars relationship with. “I get him to accept the friends,” she said. And to see how valuable a tool it might be when it comes time to sell some of those Belties. “I see the light come on in his eyes in terms of the reach.”
CRITTER CASTING CALL: Last year Frost had a show at Maine Farmland Trust’s gallery in Belfast and also did a photo blog that was featured on the nonprofit land conservation group’s website. That’s when “everything started to take off.” She’s already sold half of what’s hanging at the show at the Frontier – this without featuring kittens or puppies. “It is all farm animals, horses, donkeys, sheep, cows.” No goats though. “Goats are really hard because they move fast. If you look at my style it is to try to get the contact with the eyes, and goats don’t sit still.”
It takes a lot of patience to get that eye-to-eye contact, but it’s key for her to connect the viewer to the animal. Interestingly, considering how much time she spends around livestock, “I don’t eat anything with fur.” She sets some standards for herself. “I only shoot at farms that I have vetted, and I talk to them specifically about their harvesting practices. I understand and respect that it is a business and a reputable business to be in. And necessary for our state.”
BOVINE BEHAVIOR: Cows are a favorite. Lately she’s been shooting at Winter Hill Farm in Freeport, where she’s trying to capture the quieter nature of their Randalls. “It’s interesting because they have different temperaments. Jerseys are super curious and friendly. It gives me that little …” she sucks in her breath, “where I am like, they are really cute.” And she’s decided that shooting animals in a winter landscape is optimum. “It allows the animal to really stand out. Plus, no flies.”
DOG DAYS: Looking back, Frost says going out on her own was challenging. “For the first several years, it was touch and go. But knock on wood, I am still here and still doing this.” Her days of dog-kissing photos are behind her. Not that she doesn’t still love dogs. “But I think that this sort of evolution is more of a maturation in my spirit. The whole farm movement just pulled me in. It’s more about discovering this love later in life.”
Mary Pols can be contacted at 791-6456 or at: