Photographer Harry Whittier Frees photographed animals in human situations and created novelty postcards. These photographs from the 1910s feature funny but adorable animals dressed as humans, posing with props, often with captions, which can be seen as the ancestors of today’s lolcats.
He began photographing animals in 1902. He did not begin dressing them in tiny human costumes until 1905. He had his “eureka moment” during a family birthday party. People were passing around paper hats and trying them on. One of the family members stuck it on the cat, and Frees took a picture. The postcard manufacturer loved the shot so much that he used it, and the image was hugely successful. Various novelty postcards, books, calendars, and magazines used the Frees frame illustrations for their novelty illustrations. He published many books of his work. He created scenes for the animals ranging from activities in a kitchen to puppies participating in firefighting. There seemed to be no limit to what he could make: a movie studio camera, a miniature bed, a washtub, an ironing board, a ladder, an old-fashioned microphone, a scooter, and a sled, to name a few. He used 1/5th of a second exposure and held the animals in position using stiff costuming, pins, and forks.
Seeing that people couldn’t resist young animals, Frees also began using them. Between six and ten weeks of age, puppies and kittens are at their most photogenic, which presented challenges. Therefore, Frees needed a constant supply of young animals. He was able to borrow animals from neighbors or rent them from a local pet store. Sometimes he photographed chicks, bunnies, and even a piglet. In his book Animal Land on the Air, he stated that rabbits are the easiest animals to photograph in costumes but incapable of taking on many ‘human’ characteristics. The kitten is the most versatile animal actor and has the greatest variety of appeal when correctly understood.