Photos by Cheremy Vienes
Cheremy “Che” Vienes is popular among dog lovers for having recently been featured in Manila Bulletin’s Picture Perfect section, and for her work as an advocate for animals. Last July 2016, she offered free dog and dog lover portraits, with over 500 participating in her project. Her objective? To show people the beauty of dogs.
Herself a dog owner and lover, Che believes that every dog lover has a story, and her portraits are her way of saying thank you to those who willingly shared their stories with their pets with her. Going over those portraits for the 21 she decided to share with Animal Scene beginning this issue, she remarks, “It’s been a powerful reminder of how so many dog lovers have entrusted me with their deeply personal stories of experiencing and [dealing with] having a dog.”
So what inspired her “Dog Lovers and Their Stories” series? “Every time I woke up in the morning, there [were] excited four legged babies at my side. These are my inspiration [for] doing this photography series,” Che shares. The love of dog lovers for their pets also inspires her.
Che explains that since she was a child, her family has had many pets. This dog parent, domestic rabbit lover, and bird keeper also has close friends who are cat lovers. She credits her pet parenthood with “completely [changing] my life” as she began incorporating her pets into conceptual photo shoots “[in] ways I [didn’t think was possible].” As she did this, she also did shoots for other friends who were dog lovers, and soon became known for her work for kennel owners, pet products, and advertising.
So why does she do her portraits for free? “Many dog lovers cannot afford to book a private photo session. One day, I want to be as [good] a person as my dogs think I am. So [I thought] of something that [would be worthy of] my [fellow] dog lovers,” Che shares.
“[If] I [offered] a free portrait session, what smiles [on] their faces I [could] capture…[And because] dogs are commonly referred to as ‘man’s best friend’, I asked them to share their story [with] me. I asked them [what was] unique about their dog, why do they love their dog? [They would tell me a] little about their dog…[and my job was] to ‘pause’ those happy moments, and give these people a portrait they can [cherish over] time.”
So how did she get into photography? Che started when she was 17 with a simple point-and-shoot camera. “I enjoyed photography because it [helped] me…wake up and see the world around me,” and gave her a fresh perspective on the world every day. “Photography [has] the ability to change the way [a person views] a subject. Photography [taught] me to talk deeply with other people to create good photographs and [capture a] story.”
Was it hard to photograph dogs? Not at all, she smiles. “First, because I love them. Second, this four-legged friend is my favorite subject because I can execute it [naturally and creatively] and with a concept.”
#1 The Beautiful At Heart
This shoot features Jeng Mamiit from Bacoor City, Cavite, who shared that her love for dogs began when she was young, and her love for rescued dogs started with the first dog she adopted, Hany, from CARA Welfare Philippines. While she originally only wanted a companion for her first dog, meeting Hany in 2011 opened her eyes “…to the plight of rescued dogs in the country and how much they needed help.” And so began her advocacy.
While Jeng says Hany isn’t the typical beautiful dog, with wiry black fur very much like a terrier’s, “…she [will] certainly captivate you with her…personality.” That charm led to Hany winning the title of Philippine Animal Welfare Society’s Binibining Aspin in 2014. This beauty pageant is held exclusively for Aspins (Asong Pinoy), and Jeng proudly notes that in a doggie fashion world ruled by small, designer breed dogs, Hany isn’t a mere cookie-cutter beauty queen; instead, she represents the beauty innate in a rescued dog in her own special way.
#2 The Blind
Rhea Estacio from Manila owns a 15 year-old Sharpei, and she was worrying about losing her beloved pet due to Yukah’s advanced age when a friend suggested that Rhea “…hire a photographer to help me capture special moments with my senior pet before it’s too late.”
Her request included, “Please let me know what to do. Thanks so much. Just the thought of losing her is death on my part. I just can’t imagine living without her.” Moved by the touching appeal, Che took on the job, and realized that each time Rhea looked into Yukah’s blind eyes, she relived all the things they’d been through together. Since Rhea’s other Sharpei, Wrinkle, died in 2013, Rhea confessed that she would ask Yukah not to pass on yet, as the loss of Wrinkle had devastated her.
Rhea shared that Yukah still feels like a puppy despite her age, and the loss of her sight because she was too old for an operation to save it. Of this Che writes, “Darkness implacable. The blind dogs of the sun in their running. The crushing black vacuum of the universe. And somewhere two hunted animals trembling like ground-foxes in their cover. Borrowed time and borrowed world and borrowed eyes with which to sorrow it (sic).”
Learn more about Che Vienes, canine and feline portraitist, and her personal campaign, “Thank You For Being A Dog Lover,” by searching for her name on Facebook and the hashtag #ThankYouForBeingADogLover on FB, Instagram, and Twitter.
This appeared in Animal Scene magazine’s November 2016 issue.