Karen Lifshey calls herself a “wife, mother, dog lover, procrastinator, photographer, writer, retired actress/singer/dancer, and couch potato.” We all know that last one can be a doozy and with a black lab named Ben and a beagle named Zuzu on the family roster, we’re guessing she has a pretty rigorous training schedule.
In February of 2012 Karen made the decision to cater exclusively to clients of the “pawed” persuasion. Whether it’s a client or rescue shoot she has a knack for documenting the gratitude, love and connection we share (or are soon to share) with our animals. Capturing the soulful beauty that lies behind waiting eyes and everyday moments we cherish with our pets, Karen’s images prove that happiness is having a dog.
Karen is also the newest member to join the HeARTs Speak writing team, so it seemed like the perfect time to sit down and chat with her about what brought into the world of professional pet photography.
We love your latest blog series, Freedom and Beyond, what inspired that series?
Thank you! The response was much more than I could’ve hoped for! I had seen the news stories on the first Beagle Freedom Rescue back in 2010 and my heart just stopped. I couldn’t imagine or BELIEVE that anyone would do research on these beautiful creatures. I reached out to Shannon Keith, founder of Beagle Freedom Project, and she emailed me about photographing their 11th rescue, The Midwest 10. Watching something like that is pretty life changing. So, after their Gentle Giants rescue last October, I had an idea. How are they now? Where are they? How was their journey?
Tell us about your journey into photography and why you chose to exclusively photograph pets?
Growing up I always had a camera in hand, but I was a dancer/actor/singer my whole life and moved to New York to pursue that career. In 1994, I made my Broadway debut in Show Boat. It was truly magical. We won lots of Tony’s and it was an honor to work with Hal Prince and Elaine Stritch, among others. My next Broadway show was not as well received. Let me tell you, there is nothing like seeing your face on the cover of the NY Post with the title “Rhythm and Boo’s” next to it. Soon after, I found out I was pregnant and had a new dream to fulfill, so I retired and became a full-time mom.
During that time, I owned a pet accessories store, and had rescue groups out front every week, and that really opened my eyes to the homeless pet problem. It was shocking to me. Being a lifelong animal lover and having many pets, I felt compelled to take action and found that I could give back by taking photographs for the rescues.
Professionally, I started out trying my hand at headshot photography. Being a “retired” actor, I thought I would be good at that. I quickly discovered that animal parents don’t have the same attitude that agents, managers, and fussy parents. They don’t worry about what they wear or if they look fat, or whatever other insecurities humans have. They just love their animals. Unconditionally.
Are there any other special animals that have inspired you along the way?
Linguini, from Labs and Friends! I fell in love with this little terrier mix at NKLA last year and just couldn’t stop thinking about him. He didn’t get adopted that weekend, and it broke my heart. I posted photos on my FB page and a dear, longtime friend emailed me. She had just lost her pup and said that she saw Linguini’s (now Bixby) face and knew it was time for another. Now happy and healthy living the life with one of the greatest women I know.
Do you have any advice for new artists volunteering with animals?
I just read this great article about Grace Chon of Shine Pet Photos that pretty much covers it. (#5 is my favorite.) However, my personal advice is to persevere. Be kind. Be respectful. Be patient.