Winnie Au is a Brooklyn-based photographer who has photographed for brands like Purina, Casper, Panera Bread, eBay, and Grubhub, and for publications like ELLE, Bon Appétit, and the New York Times. But for the past two years (and in her mind even longer), she has been working on a personal project called Cone of Shame, featuring dogs wearing cones of shame specially designed by prop stylist Marie-Yan Morvan, whose clients include Nike, Apple, and Cynthia Rowley.
When you see a dog on the street wearing an Elizabethan collar, aka a “cone of shame,” you may experience a visceral reaction akin to “Aw, poor baby.” Cute, yes, but also sad and helpless. But as inconvenient as the cone is, it is extremely important for dogs who’ve had recent surgeries to wear in order to prevent infection from licking or biting. Surgeries are no small expense for dog parents—soft tissue sarcoma removal surgery can cost around $9,000, for example. Having lost a dog to cancer before, Winnie wanted to do something to help other pet owners and animal rescues pay for surgeries.
If you’re in New York on Wednesday, October 16th (with or without a dog), you can attend the Cone of Shame x Animal Haven Dog Adoption Event & Dog Social at WeWork, 205 Hudson Street, 7th Floor. It’s dog friendly, so feel free to bring your dog, but if you don’t have one (yet), there will be adoptable dogs from Animal Haven there! There will be free drinks and food from Linda & Winks, Cloud 7, Arlo Skye, Wild One, Farmer’s Dog, Four & Sons, WeWork, and Audrey’s Farmhouse, and free illustrated dog portraits by BEST. All adopted dogs from the event will go home with bag full of goodies from partners. And there will be an appearance from fashion icon Linda Rodin and Winky the poodle, who we interviewed and photographed back in April! The event is free, but you have to RSVP.
Read on for our conversation with Winnie about Cone of Shame (we’re huge fans of Winnie, but not actual cones).
How did you know you were a dog person?
I grew up in the countryside and we had a dog growing up, so I always knew I loved dogs. But I started working [as a photographer] full-time about seven-to-eight years ago, and I was always taking photos of my friends’ dogs on the side. Even before I was being paid to photograph dogs, which I have done for publications like Four & Sons and brands like Purina.
What was dog photography like when you first started?
When I first started taking portraits of dogs about 15 years ago, the market for dog photography was very small. I kept doing it for years as a passion project, but it was harder to find commercial or editorial clients who fit my style. Now, the dog and pet industry has exploded in a way. More and more households are foregoing children to have pets. This has really opened up a lot of opportunities for different types of dog photography to be commissioned and created, which is great.
Yes, I love the photos you took of Linda Rodin and Winky for Four & Sons. The way that you shoot brings out all the colors.
They’re the best. They’re who everyone wants to be when we grow up.
How did Cone of Shames come about?
Before I got Clementine, my Basset Hound, I had a Corgi named Tartine. One-and-a-half years after we got her, she got throat cancer. We had pet insurance, but it would have been so expensive. We were doing everything to save her. I realized that I wanted to do something about it, because you shouldn’t have to choose between your pet’s life or your finances. The money raised from selling prints at this [upcoming] event will go to Animal Haven for pet surgeries.
There’s also something about that there’s a source of shame for these cones, and I wanted to take that back. They can be beautiful.
Chicken or the egg question: How do you cast the dogs for Cone of Shame? Do you choose the cones or the dogs first?
Some of the dogs are [professional] models, because even though the project raises awareness and funds for rescue dogs, it can be hard to work with rescues. You don’t want to put them in environments that make them more anxious, especially if I’m asking them to wear a cone around their neck. That can be scary.
Sometimes, I already have a dog in mind. I knew I wanted a Komondor, which looks like a mop, and those dogs usually come from people who raise them specifically, because it’s so much work to take care of them. When they go to the bathroom, you have to tie up their [corded] coat, so that it doesn’t get in the way.
We also did castings for dogs, asked friends of friends. People were very receptive.
Do you consider yourself a dog mom?
In private, yes. In public? No, I don’t call myself a dog mom. I’m a mother of Basset Hounds, which is a reference to Game of Thrones.
Photography by Winnie Au