Shelter volunteers give - and receive - unconditional love in new book 'Finding Shelter'

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Before moving across the country from California to North Adams, dog photographer and author Jesse Freiden noticed a trend shift in the world of canine imagery: shelter pet portraiture, meant to highlight adoptable animals.

The trend works — those beautiful photos still get picked up and go viral today, building awareness around shelter pets and the work done by animal shelters everywhere.

"Everyone was doing it," Freiden said. "But not one person was looking at the volunteers, which I thought was really interesting."

He talked to photographer friends about the idea: What if someone took photos of those volunteers and asked them to open up? "Everyone's response was, `It'll never work. The volunteers are too shy. They won't talk to you,'" he said. "That really fueled me to do it."

That spark in Freiden's mind caught fire and manifested in "Finding Shelter" (Lyons Press, 2017), a book depicting just that: shelter volunteers, speaking about how the animals they serve have impacted their own lives.

Spanning years of concept-testing on the West Coast, a Kickstarter campaign that raised nearly $19,000, and a cross-country trip with assistants in tow to photograph volunteers all over the country, the book is an impactful collection that flips the traditional script. Through short interviews and beautiful black-and-white photographs, the reader sees that often, it's the animals that provide love and comfort to the volunteers. Since being published, the book has hit Number 1 on Amazon's "Pets and Animal Care" genre section.

Freiden wanted to make sure the places he visited represented American shelters as broadly as possible — so the book features around 30 in total, some with major sources of funding, some getting by, in major cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston and Philadelphia, but also in small towns in New Mexico, Tennessee and Texas.

"The goal was to unite the experience of volunteers across the country," he said.

"Finding Shelter" has now taken Freiden across the country twice — once to shoot the book, and again on a book tour that's placed him in independent bookstores, boutique pet supply stores and, of course, animal shelters.

"The best thing has been meeting all these people face-to-face," he said. "I've had other projects that have gone viral and have gotten attention, but there's something about doing a book tour in support of a national project, and having a physical portfolio to show for it. That's a different experience, and it's incredibly rewarding."

Now that he is back in North Adams, Freiden plans a few more signings, including a recent appearance at the Berkshire Humane Society (featured in the book), but then he'll get back to his full-time focus: photographing the animal-human bond for clients all over the U.S.

"I feel like this book is going to continue having a positive impact, which is wonderful," he said.

Find out more about Freiden and view his work at www.jessefreidin.com.


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