Today, Yummypets would like to introduce you to someone who is living the dream of all of us here at Yummypets: Elsa Meier, who you may know as Yourka, Hélia and Niko of Yummypets, talks to us about her profession of animal photographer, her passions and her four-legged friends.
Can you introduce yourself in just a few words?
My name is Elsa Meier, I'm 25 years old and I live in the north of Paris not to far from the town of Chantilly. For as long as I can remember, I have always been fascinated by wide open spaces, by animals, by nature. I'm a naturally solitary and observant person and I often avoid the company of my own kind. I prefer to stay in the background and notice all the small details outside.
What is your job?
I'm currently a freelance photographer (specialising at the moment in horses) and I have been since the end of 2013. I'm hoping to move into cat/dog territory with Yurka, my Husky.
Where does your passion for photography come from?
My passion for photography was something that struck me quite late in life (2010), completely out of the blue. I'd learnt how to use an SLR at eight years old, not for photographic purposes but more for souvenirs. The quality wasn't important as long as I managed to capture those moments. It was only when I was deprived of horseriding for health reasons and that I moved away (for studies) that I took an interest in photography. At the beginning, it was just a substitution to make myself feel better, but then I wanted to show to the world, particularly those who hadn't experienced it, the majesty and beauty of horses. I knew them by heart: their muscles, their curves, their gaze, their expressions. Everything about them fascinated me, even more so when added to light play. I therefore decided to teach myself photography in order to capture what I saw and not what was programmed by the camera.
What did you before photography?
I was studying engineering, specialising in Geology and Environment.
How would you define your photographic style?
"Mysterious beauty"... yeah, I think that's it.
I don't like staging, it makes me uncomfortable. I like being surprised by what nature and my subject offer me moment by moment. I let them express themselves. It's therefore only when I like the ambiance that I set up, observe, try again, until I obtain what I want (which is a paragraph when you know that patience is not usually my forté...). Very often, I'm not satisfied because the reality is so much more beautiful and filled with emotion than the photographic result, but it's a start, at least.
What excites you about photography?
What excites my might seem a bit big-headed from a certain angle. In fact, what I like more than anything else is the emotion and the beauty that I witness. But also to be able to show people what they're missing when they live their life superficially. Many people look at the world but are incapable of being touched by all the little things that seem insignificant but mean so much. Such is the case of light, which is so often taken for granted despite the fact that it's indispensable to photography. Very often, when clients receive their photo they ask me, "Where did you take this photo, when did you take it?" and I reply "It was here, with you when we did this or that."
What is your advice for amateur animal photographers?
I can't decide between passion and observation... both are important. First of all to really be interested in what you're doing, what you're photographing. Not taking pictures just to say "I can do that too". Photography is before else being observant, resourceful and learning to observe without pointing a camera. If you have this observant side it becomes a lot more simple. You don't need books to learn, just comparison, logic (with a good dose of perseverence, because you can't just order this kind of thing to go) and finally a critical eye for your own work. Everything needs to be reassessed.
But before all else, and this is very important, you need to take photographs for yourself and not for others. The number of yummys is all very well and good, but the number of view of photos is random and doesn't mean anything. If you enjoy what you are doing, your subject, and you are always trying to improve, you're already half-way there!
How do you find inspiration?
I'm luck in that when taking photographs, inspiration is never far and I love experimenting even if I hit a dead end. At least I've tried and some times I'm surprised by the results! But to really reply to the question, I think that it's my subjects that inspire me the most. All the time spent with them sparks my imagination all day long. Added to this the hours that I spend looking at the photos of other photographers well-known or not and voilà the result!
Do you have other hobbies linked to the animal kingdom?
I've been horse-riding since the age of 10 as well as working in a stable. Before photography, I drew animals, which helps me now.
Where, when and how did you meet your pets?
The pet that I met first was Helia, a wild Welsh pony that was bought by my equestrian centre in 2001. She was seven years old, completely freaked out and scared of adults (which hasn't changed). I looked after her for 14 years. Now she's retired peacefully with my coach.
Then, there was Nikolai*HN en 2004. As his name indicates, he was from the national stud farm. He was three years old, French but with American blood, and not intended for me. But after he was injured on his arrival, fate dictated that I look after him and as it was love at first sight by coach let me care for him and clean him until my departure for university in 2010. For five years, I kept watch over him from a distance, heartbroken that I couldn't see him anymore because of the distance. But at the end of my studies, I came in late 2014 and started taking care of him again. He's been in my heart for 11 years.
The last one of the group is Yurka, a two year-old husky. We hadn't planned on getting a dog at all, though not for lack of trying! But sometimes coincidence works out for the best. She was a trafficked dog, found with an internal fracture despite only being one year old. She had been rescued by my friend who worked at the SPA, but my friend already ahd too many dogs so she asked me to find someone to adopt Yurka, and we finally convinced my dad to keep her.
Where do their names come from?
Helia's name was chosen by her breeder, as was Niko's. However Yurka was the name of my grandmother's dog when she was younger.
How would you describe their character?
Helia is observant, delicate, secretive, with a fiery temperament. She's not very demonstrative - you need to observe her and understand her body language. Out of all my pets she taught me the most.
Niko is very nice, but very intelligent. He needs to be looked after though. He can give his all but only on the condition that the person riding him merits his effort. When riding, we pass our time annoying each other, mucking around, and occasionally, we work. He is very multi-talented. And on foot, he's a big softie who loves cuddles.
Yurka is a bundle of contradictions but she can also be as stubborn as a donkey, and very lacking in patience. She brims over with energy but she also likes long naps, snoring on her bed. Her hunting instinct has grown and now she searches out only adventure and things to eat! She's also a dear who loves a good cuddle.
What's the craziest thing you've ever done for them?
For Helia, if you know her, it was to gallop around the forest, letting her go wherever she wanted. That was before she was sold to another club... but luckily for me, she was so complicated that they brought her back after a week!
For Niko, it was those long nights staying up to keep watch over him when he was ill. The vet thought that he wouldn't pull through and I was at the time studying part-time far away. Nevertheless, every single day I came back to walk with him, keep watch over him, comfort him when he suffered. The worst four days of my life.
For Yurka, after having adopted her, it was to travel to the other end of France so that she could discover snow.
Your best memory together?
For Niko and Helia, I think it was the day that they showed me (or that I understood) that they knew who I was and that they trusted me. I was never a huge fan of that 'if they recognise you, they will miss you', particularly because I wasn't there much anymore and they were club horses so they saw loads of people pass by. I thought that they would forget about me and just come for the carrots. But I was wrong.
For Helia, it happened one evening when I let her out. She was neglected at the club (too complicated for the children and too old for the older riders) and with my studies, I couldn't come as often. She showed me that she wanted to play with me, that when I ran, she followed. It was the first time in 10 years that I saw this. I was really touched.
For Niko, it was one day in the manège. It had been a few months that I hadn't visited, so I went to say hi to my coach without knowing that Niko was there, and he let out this big whinny when he heard my voice and came trotting over to me, not letting his rider direct him at all! A big cuddle session followed, with him not wanting to work any longer.
For Yurka, I would say that it was when I contracted malaria. She sensed that I wasn't well and came over to lie on me to keep me warm with her little head on my shoulder, licking my face.
Could you describe a typical day?
8:30 : after having eaten, Yurka goes upstairs while my dad is in the shower in order to wake me up.
9:30 to 10:30 : first walkies in the forest (with a camera, of course). Then I sit in front of the computer to touch up photos for my clients while Yurka gnaws at a bone and chases butterflies in the garden.
12:30 to 13:30 : after lessons with my dad, we take another walk before lunch, often on the banks of the Oise. After eating, it's nap time for my dad and Yurka.
14h30 : In the afternoon, generally Yurka and I go to the club, and I look after the horses, then I finish off my work.
About 18:00 (in the winter, but 20:00 in the summer) : another walk around the lake, this time.
20:30 : dinner for the dog, who is famished by now.
21:30 : dinner for the humans while Yurka tries to snatch up all the extra food.
22:00 : Yurka goes to bed while we watch a film.
23:00 : Yurka asks to go out
Night-time : sometimes she comes back at about 1:00, or she stays outside.
How did you find out about Yummypets?
I think that I stumbled upon it on facebook, on the 'recommended pages'.
When did you sign up?
I think that it was about a year ago because we already had Yurka and it was a bit before we went to the sea. I had a quick look around the site and what made me sign up was the page for missing page, because I thought that it might happen to Yurka. Then I started posting photos and I saw that people were interested in her story and development.
Have you made any Yummypals? Have you met up with any of them?
I've chatted with some people, mostly about photos, but I haven't seen anyone outside the site.
What do you like about Yummypets?
I like following the development of the different members of the Yummypets community and sometimes I learn about dog-care and things like that, for Yurka.
Anything else to add?
Thank you Leo for interviewing me, I enjoyed it very much. And for those of you who wish to, don't hesitate to follow my work and ask me questions - I'm not a salesperson or a photography teacher so I can only reply with my personal experience. :)
Thank you Elsa for this interview!
Find her Yummypets profile here