These photographs were taken by American photographer Harry Whittier Frees (1879–1953), who dressed his cats, Rags and Fluff, as well as the pets (dogs, pigs, rabbits and birds) of his friends and neighbors, and posed them in human situations with props, often with captions.
Those viewing his photography instantly think there is a trick to it. However, Mr. Frees worked in a time in history when tricks in photography didn't exist. The photographer simply had to wait patiently for the shot he wanted. In Mr. Frees' own words, "These unusual photographs of real animals were made possible only by patient, unfailing kindness on the part of the photographer at all times."
His career in animal photography took off at the turn of the 20th century when his pictures first appeared on novelty postcards and calendars. The March 1, 1937, edition of LIFE magazine reatured an article on Mr. Frees titled, "Speaking of Pictures...These are Harry Frees's Lifework". The article explains that Frees's career as a photographer of dressed animals began at a birthday party in 1906, when a paper party hat was passed around the dinner table and landed on the pet cat's head. Harry took a picture and a career was begun! He took others and sold them to a postcard printer, who clamored for more.
In the preface to "Animal Land on the Air", Harry Whittier Frees describes working with his subjects. "Rabbits are the easiest to photograph in costume, but incapable ot taking many "human" parts. Puppies are tractable when rightly understood, but the kitten is the most versatile animal actor, and possesses the greatest variety of appeal. The pig is the most difficult to deal with, but effective on occasion. The best period of young animal models is a short one, being when they are from six to ten weeks of age. An interesting fact is that a kitten's attention is best held through the sense of sight, while that of a puppy is most influenced by sound, and equally readily distracted by it. The native reasoning powers of young animals are, moreover, quite as pronounced as those of the human species, and relatively far surer."
Frees' animal pictures became more elaborate. His exposures were taken at 1/5th of a second and two-thirds of the negatives had to be discarded. He rented his models from neighbors, breeders, and pet shops and said his work was so nerve-racking that he only photographed three months a year. The rest of the time was spent preparing new props, scenes, and situations.
(Photography by Harry Whittier Frees/ Library of Congress, via One More River)