Inspiring People

Jim Dratfield, world renown, celebrated pet photographer

Photo by Jim Dratfield
JIM DRATFIELD is the photographer-owner of Petography, a pet-photography firm whose clients include Jennifer Aniston, Henry Kissinger, Oscar de la Renta, and Len Riggio. Petography. Jim's books have been featured on 20/20, Access Hollywood, Inside Edition, Primetime Live, and CBS's Early Show, and in print features and reviews in USA Today, People, Town & Country, and other publications. He lives in New York City.

From underdog to top dog would be an appropriate title for a movie about the life and climbs of Jim Dratfield. I met Jim while he was waiting tables during his days as an actor. He was excited back then about this strange idea that he had to photograph people's pets using sepia style photography. And as crazy as it seemed to some people at times, Jimmy made it happen!

His story is inspiring because it is a story about being happy where you are right now, crazy dreams and making friends and keeping good friends.

I knew Jimmy when and -

his success warms my heart!

DR: So Jimmy, tell me about your life.

JD: Well I moved to New York when I was 19 years old to be an actor and I acted in a really god-awful movie that I am proud to say, that National Lampoon called "One Of the Ten Worst Films of the Seventies" -- If you are going to be in a bad movie, be in a really bad one.

I guess ignorance is bliss because by the time I was twenty, I was in a Broadway show and I thought "This is the way that it is supposed to be" but I learned that it was a tough business. I spent fourteen years, either working or doing the famous waiting tables routine that comes along with the acting. I got to a place with it in my early 30s where, I loved the business but I didn't love the business of pursuing the work. I had spent a bunch of time in L.A. but I really felt like being on the East Coast at the time. And, I just felt like I needed to be more empowered in my own life and I always felt as an actor that I was often at the mercy of these other people to make decisions about my life. I mean, I loved the arts but I didn't feel very empowered in my own life.

So, I took a workshop, a one night workshop on career alternatives that this family friend gave. It was a wonderful workshop on just totally being open to things; taking some of your favorite things that you love and not censoring yourself and just throw them together and not think of them as a career necessarily just "I love this and I love this..." There was a group of people there and we sort of played around with "Well what could that become? What kind of career?" I took that one night workshop and for a year later I would always still keep this in my mind and literally it was like

-- one day a friend of mine was playing around with sepia-tone photography and I thought "I love animals and I have always played around with photography, but I am not going to leave one struggling art form for another one."

And then I had this idea and it was literally like a light bulb. I thought:

"God, I love fine art photography and I love pets!"

I had seen a lot of bad pet photography out there and I thought "Is there a market for more of a fine art look to pet photography?" And I didn't see anybody doing it. I really couldn't believe that I didn't see this around.

So, I started playing around with this idea. I was waiting tables at the times and sort of pursuing my acting but my father had died recently and I was just trying to find my way. And I got really, really excited by this and what I discovered is that --

Photo by Jim Dratfield


Dear Friends & Fellow Pet Lovers,

Petography™ was inspired by my now late and beloved Kuma, the Wonderdog.

After taking fine art, sepia-tone photo portraits of him, and then the two of us together, I howled with delight. Pet photography became my calling.

As the years go by, I treasure these images more and more as he will always be an honored member of my family, of my life!

I now have a terrific animal companion, Caleb, who continues to give the kind of wonderment and joy only our animals can offer us.


Jim Dratfield
Petography™ founder & creative director

Visit Jim Dratfield's Petography website at:

When you have a passion for something -- there are no rules!

Once you have a passion for something that will get you to the next step, which will get you to the next step, which gets you to the next step. If I sat back and analyzed how my career has gone from point "A" to where I am now, I could never have planned it out through a blue print this way. I think that your drive and your passion bring people into your life. And I don't mean that in an ethereal way. I just mean that -

You simply open yourself up to talking to people because you are excited about what you do.

What I have discovered most of all is that --

You never know who can help you and who will want to help you and it's never necessarily the person you think it's going to be.

You may think "Oh if I talk to so and so, this will lead to this or that." And often that is not the case. But that's O.K., and so you pursue that avenue! But also, that one person might lead you to another person who might lead you to a third or a fourth person who might be a person who can be a really great help or source of support and you don't know who that person is...

And that's kind of the fun and the excitement about's that you are just sort of open to this adventure,

"I believe in what I do and I know that it excites other people. How do I put that together and make a living and a life for myself from it?"

I mean, it's contagious! People love to help people when they believe in you and they believe in what you are doing. It's an exciting, reaffirming thing about humanity; when people really want to help you because you believe in yourself and because you are excited about what you do.

That was fun to discover that.

20/20 did a profile on me two and a half years ago. Basically they took a look at where I started to where I am now. They went back to my waiting tables all the way up to, well, at the time I think I had done seven books and now I have just finished my ninth book.

I think that sometimes you get so busy in your life trying to get to the next place that you don't stop to smell the roses that often. What was wonderful is that I stopped and saw an arc of where I started and where I have come to in my career. It was really exciting! It's good to appreciate. It's good to be humble but it's also good to just bask in the enjoyment of going "Hey, I've done this and it's wonderful!" It's not an ego thing as much as it is that you need to feel good about the things that you have done in life.

Life is short and it can't always be about getting to the next step.

I remember the first article on me and how excited I was. And then you get jaded after you get a bunch of them and you forget. It's always the next thing. It's like "I've done that book. They don't want me to do the book I want to do." And then you're like "Wait a second! I have done 'X' amount of books...hold on here! How many people get to do books?!"

I still giggle inside because, like I have a meeting tomorrow with my editor and I'm like "I have an editor? I'm an author?"

Fortunately I love to play with words so, although most of my books were photo driven with quotations, some of my books I have done the text for, with quips and puns. It really made me excited to be able to incorporate my own sense of humor and sensibility into, not only the imagery but also into the text of some of the books that I have done.

DR: You seem to have an unlimited supply of passion. Your passion seems limitless. Where do you think that comes from?

JD: It's been really strange. I started this career about thirteen years ago and I don't think that I have ever stopped being excited about it. I remember not being able to sleep the first night and I'm not sure that I have slept in fourteen years...

DR: The first night...?

JD: When I first got this idea.

Like I said it was like a light bulb...

I remember going out to a concert that night thinking more and more about this idea. And it literally was just a thought. And obviously there are frustrations and there are hardships along the way. Nothing is easy. People will look and say "You play with animals all day." And that is hardly the case.

I have two careers. I have a career doing personal commissions, photographing people's pets, and I have a career doing books and note cards and ancillary product. When you are doing commissions for people it's a service industry and I deal often with a very wealthy clientele. People can be demanding and human nature dictates that not everybody is going to love what you do and you are never going to please everybody and you don't always get paid when you should get paid and all of these things that happen to all of us.

It is dangerous to look at someone else's life and say "They've got everything. If only I could be where they are."

I love what I do but it certainly has its frustrations and its moments. No one has it made in that sense.

You have to understand that there are human foibles in all things and in stead of getting down about those things just accept that there are going to be bumps in the road. Instead of always seeing it as "Woe is me." Just say "I have dealt with problems in the past, how do I take this one and try and problem solve?" I think its more about problem solving then seeing yourself as a victim. We all have problems and no matter how successful you are, you are going to find that you are going to have to problem solve and you can choose to be the victim or you can choose to problem solve.

Photo by Jim Dratfield

DR: It sounds as though you've got a pretty clear idea about how to handle difficulties and challenges...

JD: Well it's easier said than done. I mean, I say it and then there are moments when I bitch and moan. As I hopefully grow wiser, I try to lessen my bitching and moaning.

DR: Have you ever encountered an obstacle that you had to really struggle to overcome?

JD: Well, I mean I still do.

There is a sense that if I do 'X' amount of books and 'X' amount of {photo} shoots that the work will keep flowing and then I won't have to work so hard to get the next job. But I am constantly out there promoting my work. I'll have a booth exhibiting my work at different kinds of events and I guess my thought process at one point is that I wouldn't have to do that at one point in my career...and it's always increased. It's gotten better and better as time goes on but I still have to work hard to get work too.

DR: What would you change about your life if you could change one thing?

JD: I don't know if I would want to change anything. The only thing that I would want to change is -

I think that I was in a rush to become an adult.

I left college to when I was 19 years old to act...In a sense I don't have regret because at 20 I was working on Broadway and that was an exciting phase of my life but I also felt like I missed out on my college years. I was in too much of a rush to get to the next place with my life and I think --

"Everything in its own time."

So I wish that I would have maintained the whole college experience when I was in college for the year that I was. I actually went back to take classes over the years but I think I was in a rush to become an adult. As an adult you start to savor the childhood stuff. I was in a big rush.

When I started this business there was a constant sense of financial fear. I didn't have a lot of money when I started this. It was sort of a strange mix. I had a wonderful apartment but I was still working two jobs to make it work and so there was a lot of financial pressure. It would have been nice not to have had the financial pressure...

DR: Do you think that you would have been as successful without that financial pressure?

Photo by Jim Dratfield

JD: I don't know. I couldn't really answer that. But I look back and it is very hard for me to regret anything because I have had so many great experiences; even saying that I regret that I didn't go through my whole college experience. But do I regret having worked on Broadway and then on television during those years - I don't think so. Those are great experiences that I may or may not have had, had I stayed in school.

I think everything I have done has led to what I am doing now. So, I think you are right. I think part of my drive is based on necessity. Now there is more of a financial buffer so I am enjoying the process a lot more than I did earlier on when financial concerns were more prevalent and I am just also learning to enjoy the process. Again, you get so caught up in trying to get to the next place in your career that you forget to enjoy the process.

Everybody was telling me for years that I had the best career. I would smile but inside I would go "Why don't I feel like I have the best career?" That was hard because I felt almost embarrassed. Like if I don't feel it and they are telling me that, what is wrong? And part of it is that people don't realize that it is a service industry still, to some extent, and that I do have to deal with the foibles of people, and that will always be problematic and even now it is problematic...But I also understand now that in any business, we all have that experience and you can't let that take you under.

If not now, when in terms of enjoying what you do?

I am proud of what I have been able to do. I love the fact that I get to be an artist and make a living at being an artist. Everyday becomes more and more exciting because I do get asked to do some pretty wonderful things and I go to some wonderful places and for the most part, the kind of people I meet doing what I do, because they are animal lovers, are pretty interesting people.

DR: Do you consider yourself a dreamer?

JD: Oh yeah. I am definitely a dreamer.

DR: What are you dreaming about these days?

JD: I think in a sense my dreams are much simpler than they were years ago. A lot of them were success oriented.

First of all I feel that I have had my dreams fulfilled in a lot of my career.

I have always wanted to have children and I was so wanting to find the love of my life and it took me forty four years for that to happen. And again, I just believe

"Everything in its own time."

And I did; I got married almost two years ago. I really want to have a child. I'd love to spend more time in the country and enjoy a little less frenetic lifestyle. I think for me the dreams that I have right now are to have a place in the country or maybe live in the country and have a child and to experience some things that are less about me; just taking in things that aren't just about me.

DR: What do you like best about yourself?

JD: I like my passion. I think that I have a youthful enthusiasm. I hope I never lose that. I have always had it and I think it's what has taken me as far as I have gone in my career and in my life.

DR: A hundred years from now what do you want to be remembered for?

JD: Wow! I have never thought about that before.

Well what's great about having a piece of art work and photography is that it will outlive me and -

I have never thought about this.

You know you are not there when someone looks at your books, usually. And I have been at an event where someone has been looking at my book and they are laughing or they are touched by something. It's a very fulfilling moment to see that my sense of humor or something emotional gets a reaction. The wonderful thing, I think, is that that will outlive me... hopefully those images will always continue to touch people.

It's really kind of neat that you asked that question. It throws me. I have never thought beyond that. There is sort of a legacy left behind that will always be.

That's neat. I like that.


Thanks Jimmy!

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