In honor of the second release of my series, Gray Malin at the Parker, I thought I'd take a moment to really go behind the scenes and share a bit more about how this series is conceptualized in advance to ensure the images created are in respect to the magical cast of animals whose magnetic beauty comes to life in this series.
Gray Malin at the Parker is one of my favorite series and it's also one that I get the most questions about. People want to know "How did you get the animal to do..?" and many more questions that range from curiosity to sheer disbelief. So! In the spirit of really letting you all in on the process, I thought it would be fun, as well as educational, to introduce a super interesting friend of mine, Kyle Kittleson.
Kyle is a veteran animal behaviorist who has worked with dozens of species of animals from exotic birds to marine mammals. He also consults for Tully’s Training, a dog training company in Los Angeles and San Diego. He is the proud dad to a perfect dog named Callie.
The two of them dropped by the studio yesterday to say hello, and the timing couldn't have been more perfect for a quick Q & A with my friend, who is extremely knowledgable about the subject of working with animals.
K: First, let me share how pleased I am that people demonstrate their passion for the welfare of animals. I believe anyone with concerns about the treatment of the animals in the Parker series is coming from a place of love. However, it's important that passion and activism is coupled with education. That education is the reason I welcomed this opportunity to answer questions from your community. All of us want what’s best for the animals, and no one wants what's best for the animals more than me. I have dedicated much of my life to the conservation, rescue, rehabilitation, and release of animals. All animals deserve respect and to live a life that is filled with health and enrichment. The animals used in the Parker series have just that.
These animals are cared for by a team of experienced veterinarians and dedicated professionals who utilize positive reinforcement to train their animals. This means that the animals are rewarded, or reinforced, for desirable behavior. No punishment is used. Teaching an animal is one of the fastest ways to create a strong relationship and bond. Think about your relationships with your parents, former school teachers, or mentors. These relationships often become so strong, partially, because they teach you so much. You grow with these people. Helping an animal learn is truly a positive thing for both the trainer and the animal.
It is also crucial to understand that these animals were not taken from the wild. They were born under the care of man and have lived their entire lives with their human caretakers. If they were to be released out into the wild, they would most likely not survive. I love the Parker series so much, because Gray showcases these stunning creatures in a way we can all appreciate. We protect what what love, and we love what we understand. Through the Parker series, Gray is giving these animals a voice. The series brings awareness to the beauty of these creatures and the need to protect and preserve their species. Animals cannot be forgotten and the Parker series brings them to the forefront of the conversation.
For instance, I worked with penguins during my career, and when I saw a Gray Malin print of three penguins hopping through the snow - I had to have it. I look at it every day, and it reminds me of the special time I spent with those beautiful creatures. It's also a wonderful reminder of the work that needs to be done to care for our planet. Animals inspire. Art inspires. Animals and art working together is truly powerful.
K: First, a true professional interacts with a penguin with the same integrity, care, and respect as they would interact with a tiger. Also, positive reinforcement does not discriminate among species. It is the best way to build a relationship with an animal and teach them new things. So, in that respect there isn’t much difference. However, size and temperament absolutely play a role in how you interact with an animal. I believe the biggest misconception with “professional” animals is that they are forced to do certain things, and if they don’t, they are punished or withheld food. This is not at all true. In my professional experience, working with over two dozen species of animals, punishment is never used in training sessions. The animal always get the food they need. No matter what. If the animal is supposed to get 20 lbs of food a day, that animal will get that food every single day.
K: A trainer should never use punishment or aversive training techniques when working with an animal. They don’t work as well as positive reinforcement, and they also ruin your relationship and trust with the animal. Trainers are also aware that the animal is in charge. You can’t force a 400 lb lion to do anything. So, it’s up to the lion if he wants to participate. In past shoots, Gray was in charge. He decided the pace of the shoot, the angles, the lighting, etc. However, when an animal is on set, the animal is in charge. The ostrich doesn’t like the light? You have to change the light. The penguins would rather go chase a butterfly? Take five, everyone! Oh, and if the balloons are distracting the tiger…well, you better just let the tiger do what it wants with the balloons. The animals are in charge. Sorry, Gray.
K : Speaking of balloons, one of the reasons certain animals are timid around balloons is that they can be confused as predators in the sky. Animals who have to be on the lookout for flying predators may also be on the lookout for the nearest mylar balloon. It's tough for them to understand the difference. However, some animals are just unsure about novel items. If the animal has never seen a balloon, it may be timid when first seeing one. G: Makes perfect sense. Since balloons are often incorporated into my work, this was one of my first questions when working with the trainers. We took special care in assuring that the giraffe, tiger, camel and any other animals we photographed around balloons were comfortable with them before a single shot was taken.
K: Absolutely. That was the perfect approach! Well, thank you to your audience for taking time to learn about how you, Gray, and your team of professionals interacts with animals. I hope these answers enlighten and inform, and as always, I'm happy to answer any other questions on social media. Contact me at: @KyleKittleson.
Thanks so much Kyle! To learn more about Kyle Kittleson check him out on www.KyleKittleson.com and find him on all social media: @KyleKittleson. And as always, thank you ALL for following along. For more fun BTS, check out right here.