Ernest and Cat 1973
When I’m working with people I always try to make them feel comfortable and to learn to anticipate likely gestures I might want to capture. And as you have already become aware, I often try to catch them off-guard when they are not posing for me. “Ernest and the Cat” is an example of this. I was documenting the old man as he sat in his chair. Within a short while, I had made several nice negatives of a grand old character.
I had already started to pack my gear when the old field cat ambled in and climbed up on Ernest’s lap. The entire mood suddenly changed. Thinking I was finished, the two of them shifted their focus to a world of their own relatedness. They were united as two of a kind. I made my exposure at precisely the right moment. Ernest’s brother Fred later told me that I was lucky. Generally, the cat showed up about once a week and spent only a few moments on Ernest’s lap before calmly getting down and returning to the fields and barn beside the house. Luck or destiny aside, it was certainly the decisive moment.
Of all my images of people, this one seems to have the most profound effect on viewers. A man walked into my booth one day at an art show and stood there for some time staring at the large framed piece I had on display. I didn’t pay much attention to what was going on. The gentleman finally turned to me and said, “Jack you really did it to me this time.” There were tears running down his cheeks. To this day I don’t know who he was.