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  • Writer's pictureJamie Rothberg

Flower Power and Pit Bulls

For the past couple of decades, the pit bull has received a bad reputation. People perceive them as aggressive. However, this is not necessarily true.

Photographer and artist Sophie is out to prove those theories wrong. In 2010, Sophie moved to Brooklyn from a small town near Lyon, France. For as long as she could remember, Sophie has had a love for animals.

"I was very lonely as a child, and felt very misunderstood," Sophie explains. "With animals, everything was much easier."

As a child, Sophie toyed with the idea of becoming a vet until she realized that there are not always happy endings.

At the age of ten, Sophie saved up for a small camera, thus kick starting her plethora of photographs. "I did a lot of animal portraiture with my bunny and our family dogs. I would also go to the zoo and photograph the animals there."

As a child, many have the urge to belong. To not feel alone and secluded. Sophie felt that taking pictures allowed her "to feel a deep connection, even for just a moment."

Photography wasn't the only hobby Sophie focused on. She essentially had "many lives" as she dabbled in law, opera singing, and even the creation of an art magazine that was dedicated to contemporary photography.

Eight years ago, Sophie moved to the states, reinvented herself, and became the person she always felt inside: "an artist with a strong sense of justice."

In the states, there's an absurd amount of shelters, but an even larger number of euthanized dogs every year. Sophie took her camera to these shelters where she started to volunteer, taking pictures of the dogs in the hopes of adoption. While she takes pictures of other shelter animals as well, dogs became her main focus.

"By some kind of miracle," Sophie boasts, "This has turned into a full time career!"

From her beginning career in shelters came the pit bulls. Originally, Sophie, like most, feared this dog. But this was short lasted. "I was always intimidated by pit bulls, and each time they would bring a pit to my set, I would tense up and not really seek contact with the dog. I decided to create a series that would force me to interact with these dogs, and get to know them."

Sophie used her artistic brain, motivation, and her photography skills to rebrand pit bulls and the way most people see them. She is able to use her platform to educate and raise awareness for a plethora of causes and fundraises.

Throughout her career, Sophie has received positive feedback. Between her book, Wet Dog, and her famous Flower Power work, she has heard many stories of smiles, joy, and engagement.

"A woman was walking her 'scary' pit bull down the street, and usually people switch sidewalks as they are apprehensive of her dog. This mother and young daughter came up to her and asked what kind of dogs she was, the woman said, 'she is a pit bull,' fully expecting the mom to pull her daughter closer and run away."

But what happened next was because of Sophie's work. The daughter recognized the pit bull as the same type of dog that is featured in Sophie's flower dog series. "And [the three of them] proceeded to talk about my series and how they had been touched by it. Stories like these fuel my work."

Sophie knows how impactful her work is and even thought it is hard to constantly engage with social media, she knows how successful her work has become.

As a self-employed worker, Sophie is able to work from wherever she wants. She even gets to set her own rules. She has been to many places, but she fell in love with New Mexico. "I read about White Sands online, the desert, and decided to have a shoot there. It was an amazing experience and I often think about it."

Since hitting social media fame with her work, Sophie was a feature of a Facebook video that recorded over 13 million views. She has also received "Likes" by celebrities on her Instagram. The most amazing part? Sophie was able to work with Chrissy Teigen and John Legend, photographing their dog for their nursery room.

Celebrities to children, Sophie has been able to make an impact everywhere. She has created an activity book for children. She has done Skype sessions with schools. She has heard stories from children and their love for animals. Everything Sophie does positively touches the people around her.

Even though Sophie has taken pictures of dogs in all forms, her favorite series thus far has been the Flower Power series. "I love making the crowns and the challenge of the shoot is exciting too, and most importantly it has a strong message, and it saves the lives of many dogs. It’s a great project!"

With every job comes the challenges. Sophie explains how the most difficult part about shooting shelter dogs is that, besides the modeling session, the dogs do not see the outside of their cages that much. When they are out of the cage, dogs can either be excited or terrified, so Sophie had to gage the dog's feelings and work with them to become the best models out there.

Many people still fear pit bulls, but Sophie wants to correct this. "It’s not the dogs who are the issue, it’s the people who own them."

No matter what the breed is, any dog can be dangerous or safe. If the owner is irresponsible, that reflects on the dog. If the owner is loving and a great companion, that reflects on the dog, too.

"We also need better tools to address dogs who present a risk to their communities, and more education on proper dog ownership, training, socialization, reading the body language, etc."

Pit bulls are normal dogs. They want love, food, and snuggle sessions. Sophie explains how the dogs are exceptionally easy to train due to the fact that they are smart and eager to please. Not to mention human-friendly.

Sophie's advice to those who still feel these dogs are more aggressive than most is to go volunteer in a shelter. See for yourself and make a decision for yourself. Don't let news stories or rumors sway your opinion.

Sophie can take all the photographs in the world to show you how adorable and loving pit bulls are, but in the end, it's up to us to make the stigma disappear. Her pictures have created a new dialog so we should continue to open up conversations and decrease the vilification of pit bulls.

"The pictures being so shareable, I was able to share amazing stories of dogs who overcame horrific past, stories of regular people adopting these dogs."

We should continue to tell normal and inspiring stores (about any dog breed) in order to have people keep an open mind. The shelters Sophie has worked with have seen "an increase in following, donations, and dogs get adopted faster. Dogs who had been waiting for months often get adopted thanks to the portraits, in a matter of days."

It’s all about exposure, the right kind of exposure. This series does that.

We should all thank Sophie for her series, watch her to continue to pursue what intrigues her, and adopt puppies!

Check her out @sophiegamand

You can buy her merchandise here.

Check out her "Pit Bull Flower Power: the book" kickstarter and donate to see the coffee table pictures come to life.

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