Walter Chandoha
Walter Chandoha

The Original Viral Cat Photographer

Walter Chandoha
Walter Chandoha

Cats are famously impossible to corral. Those furry little narcissists have their own agenda and care little about your wants and needs. And perhaps no one is more intimately familiar with their stubborn independence than cat photographer Walter Chandoha.

"Cats are their own people and they'll do what they darn well please," says Chandoha in his new book, Walter Chandoha: The Cat Photographer (Aperture, 2015).

From Walter Chandoha: The Cat Photographer (Aperture, 2015) // (Walter Chandoha)

Chandoha, 95, has spent the majority of his life behind the lens, and it was early in his career when he discovered he had a knack for capturing animals. Although the New Jersey native has photographed dogs, fowls, and horses, cats have always been the fan favorite. That, Chandoha says, is because cats are nature's divas.

"Cats are just naturally expressive and they get into such a variety of situations," he says.

From Walter Chandoha: The Cat Photographer (Aperture, 2015) // (Walter Chandoha)

From Walter Chandoha: The Cat Photographer (Aperture, 2015) // (Walter Chandoha)

For 40 years, Chandoha's cat photos — with their signature backlighting — have appeared in advertisements (for pet food, shoes, and even women's lingerie), magazines (from National Geographic to LIFE), and more than 30 books.

But it takes an expert hand, not to mention limitless patience, to get the perfect shot. Chandoha attributes his success to his wife, Maria, who has long acted as the animal handler and charmer. "It's not a one-person job," he says. Nor is it a quick one.

For his photos, Chandoha used a small upstairs bedroom in his family's suburban New Jersey home as his studio. There, Chandoha would situate himself on his knees, his camera at the ready, while the cats were placed on a table or a box. Then, Maria would get to work — holding and cajoling the cats; entertaining them with toys; petting them — until they relaxed in spite of the glaring lights.

From Walter Chandoha: The Cat Photographer (Aperture, 2015) // (Walter Chandoha)

With his window of opportunity revealed, Chandoha would give his wife the okay to pull her hands away, then photograph madly while the cats were in pose. He'd run through a zoo of animal noises and tap the hood of his camera to try to capture the Holy Grail of cat portraiture — eye contact.

"If one cat would be looking out this way and another looking somewhere completely different, that's no good," he says. "The eye contact has to be just right."

The best shots may come by chance, but Chandoha's work manages to herd the impossible, adorably capturing cats in photographs that transcend time and trends.

From Walter Chandoha: The Cat Photographer (Aperture, 2015) // (Walter Chandoha)

 

Walter Chandoha: The Cat Photographer is available now from Aperture

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Visit the Joanina Library at the University of Coimbra in Portugal at night and you might think the building has a bat problem. It's true that common pipistrelle bats live there, occupying the space behind the bookshelves by day and swooping beneath the arched ceilings and in and out of windows once the sun goes down, but they're not a problem. As Smithsonian reports, the bats play a vital role in preserving the institution's manuscripts, so librarians are in no hurry to get rid of them.

The bats that live in the library don't damage the books and, because they're nocturnal, they usually don't bother the human guests. The much bigger danger to the collection is the insect population. Many bug species are known to gnaw on paper, which could be disastrous for the library's rare items that date from before the 19th century. The bats act as a natural form of pest control: At night, they feast on the insects that would otherwise feast on library books.

The Joanina Library is famous for being one of the most architecturally stunning libraries on earth. It was constructed before 1725, but when exactly the bats arrived is unknown. Librarians can say for sure they've been flapping around the halls since at least the 1800s.

Though bats have no reason to go after the materials, there is one threat they pose to the interior: falling feces. Librarians protect against this by covering their 18th-century tables with fabric made from animal skin at night and cleaning the floors of guano every morning.

[h/t Smithsonian]

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Honey Bees Can Understand the Concept of Zero
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The concept of zero—less than one, nothing, nada—is deceptively complex. The first placeholder zero dates back to around 300 BCE, and the notion didn’t make its way to Western Europe until the 12th century. It takes children until preschool to wrap their brains around the concept. But scientists in Australia recently discovered a new animal capable of understanding zero: the honey bee. According to Vox, a new study finds that the insects can be taught the concept of nothing.

A few other animals can understand zero, according to current research. Dolphins, parrots, and monkeys can all understand the difference between something and nothing, but honey bees are the first insects proven to be able to do it.

The new study, published in the journal Science, finds that honey bees can rank quantities based on “greater than” and “less than,” and can understand that nothing is less than one.

Left: A photo of a bee choosing between images with black dots on them. Right: an illustration of a bee choosing the image with fewer dots
© Scarlett Howard & Aurore Avarguès-Weber

The researchers trained bees to identify images in the lab that showed the fewest number of elements (in this case, dots). If they chose the image with the fewest circles from a set, they received sweetened water, whereas if they chose another image, they received bitter quinine.

Once the insects got that concept down, the researchers introduced another challenge: The bees had to choose between a blank image and one with dots on it. More than 60 percent of the time, the insects were successfully able to extrapolate that if they needed to choose the fewest dots between an image with a few dots and an image with no dots at all, no dots was the correct answer. They could grasp the concept that nothing can still be a numerical quantity.

It’s not entirely surprising that bees are capable of such feats of intelligence. We already know that they can count, teach each other skills, communicate via the “waggle dance,” and think abstractly. This is just more evidence that bees are strikingly intelligent creatures, despite the fact that their insect brains look nothing like our own.

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[h/t Vox]

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