A recent article in the New York Post tells the heart warming story of celebrity photographer Richard Phibbs who rescues homeless dogs, rehabilitates them and gives them a new life.
One August day this past summer, Richard Phibbs was snapping photos of Hollywood’s hottest couple, Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander, lovingly looking into each other’s eyes for an Entertainment Weekly spread ahead of the release of their recent film, “The Light Between Oceans.”
The next day, he was sprawled on the floor of a 6-by-6-foot veterinary-examination room at the Humane Society of New York on the Upper East Side, photographing dozens of homeless animals for free.
For the past four years, Phibbs — famous for snapping celebrities including Jon Hamm and Naomi Watts, as well as fashion campaigns for the likes of Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein — has photographed more than 360 rescue dogs, cats and other animals at the Humane Society in hopes of helping them find loving, forever homes. Now 63 of those canine portraits are featured in a new book, “Rescue Me” (Aperture; out Oct. 28), detailing each pooch’s heart-wrenching past and their new lives in NYC.
“I was craving to take a picture that does something more than sell clothes or sell a career,” Phibbs tells The Post. “In fashion, we’re trying to make up fantasy and dreams. When I’m at the Humane Society, I use photography to speak the truth. When people look into the eyes of that animal, the essence of that being is there.”
And his photos work. The animals whose portraits are taken by Phibbs see a much higher adoption rate than others at HSNY, thanks not only to the photographs themselves but also to their high share-rate on social media.
“Without a doubt [he’s increased adoptions],” says Sandra DeFeo, HSNY’s executive director. “When we post one of his photos on Instagram or Adopt-a-Pet, it’s like an avalanche. All of these people suddenly notice the animal.”
The photo shoots last anywhere from five to 45 minutes, and Phibbs will see dozens of animals in a single day. Each of his subjects is given time to adjust to his or her surroundings, so that they open up and let their personalities shine.
“Whether it’s a human or animal, I’m trying to get the subject to feel safe and to feel confident and comfortable with me,” the Midtown-based photographer says. “We’re looking for that spirit, what makes them different.”
While Phibbs may not spend hours with each animal, many of them still have a strong impact on him: “It’s not uncommon for me to walk home, and weep the whole way.”
Phibbs, who lost his own beloved mutt Huck years ago, eventually fell for one of his subjects, a purebred long-haired Chihuahua named Finn, whom the photographer adopted two years ago. These days, Finn accompanies him on photo shoots around the globe.
Phibbs’ work with animals is a strong reflection of how he became involved with photography in the first place. “I experienced a lot of loss at once in the mid-’90s. Some tragic things happened, and I went to a very dark place and knew I needed to get help,” says the native Canadian, who graduated with degrees from both the University of Toronto and Parsons before working for seven years in advertising.
His therapist recommended he use his creativity as a way to heal, and the next day he ventured out with his camera; he hasn’t put it down since. “Often in times of great darkness and suffering, a lot of lightness can appear. Photography forced me to see beauty again.”
With hundreds of animals having been photographed and finding homes — and countless others who have been adopted because their owners learned about HSNY through Phibbs’ work — it’s given Phibbs a great sense of purpose.
“There’s too much suffering on this planet, and to know that I have perhaps alleviated that suffering brings me great satisfaction.”
Meet Richard Phibbs and several of the dogs featured in “Rescue Me” at the Dog Day Afternoon and Artist Talk with Richard Phibbs on Saturday, Oct. 29 from 12-5 p.m. at the Aperture Gallery and Bookstore (547 W. 27th St., 4th Floor).