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Portraits of Western New York

Photography by James P. McCoy/Buffalo News

To those who have never been here, Buffalo is our sports teams, or our weather, or maybe even our food. Those of us who call Buffalo home know it’s something else: our people. But it’s much more than the famous people whose names and faces you recognize. That’s what Portraits of Western New York will celebrate, as each week we introduce you to someone who calls this region home. You might not think you know any of them. But if you are from Buffalo, you will know all of them.

Thomas Burns: Capturing Buffalo's renaissance, one frame at a time

Week 14: Thomas Burns, Buffalo. (James P. McCoy/Buffalo News)

Thomas Burns' love of photography goes right back to family.

"My father loved the idea of photography – he always talked about having a good 35mm camera," Burns said. "Although he never made the purchase, he did always have a camera. He also loved the prospect of Buffalo’s redevelopment."

You can see the love for photography and Buffalo in Burns' choice of subjects. "Whether it’s one of our signature sunsets, new recreation areas like Canalside, or the incredible redevelopment of buildings like the HH Richardson complex, there is so much to see, and photograph, in our region," he said.

Burns lives in South Buffalo and commutes to work in Niagara University, giving him a front-row seat to much of the change in the city. "Each day I am able to marvel at how far our city has come in recent years," he said.

Photography allows him to capture those views. His favorite time to shoot? At night.

"While I like all forms of photography, I love the nighttime – sunsets, moving cars, neon signs, and illuminated buildings like the Hotel Henry."

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How he got the shot: "Tom spends hours and sometimes days scoping out the perfect time of day to document a building," McCoy said, so he asked Burns to share his favorite photographs. Burns selected the Richardson Olmsted Campus.

McCoy wanted to show the building as it appeared through Burns' photography, so the shoot included one of Burns' prints, mounted on matte board. McCoy took multiple test images of Burns, holding the print and one open frame, in different locations around the building.

"Once I had the correct angle, the rest was easy," McCoy said.

He set up two portable high-power strobes, one directed on Burns' face and the second on a 180-angle to light the photograph without a reflection. McCoy used a slow shutter speed to balance the ambient light with the strobes. The entire shoot took about an hour.


Catherine "Candie" Ward: Art teacher turned wood carver

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Week 13: Catherine Ward, Buffalo. (James P. McCoy/Buffalo News)

Catherine Ward has lived in Buffalo all her life. She was named after her mother, but when she was only 2 weeks old, her father nicknamed her Candie to minimize the confusion of having two people in the house with the same name.

“I have always loved living in Western New York because I grew up surrounded by family. I had two sisters, one brother, 50 first cousins and 25-plus aunts and uncles,” Ward says.?Family gatherings were always filled with fun. “I can't ever imagine moving away as I know I would miss my family and friends so much.”

“From a young age I knew I loved art and wanted to teach it ... and I ended up working as an art teacher for almost 40 years.”

Fifteen years ago, her husband, who works at trimming and removing trees, encouraged her to use her artistic skills to help him chainsaw carve. “I was reluctant at first and scared of the saw," she said, "but eventually I got the hang of it and fell in love with this new medium.” Ward now carves one or two days a week. The rest of the week she uses to stain, paint and seal the carvings. She opened a small business, “Living Logs,” when the demand for her art grew.

“Now that I'm retired from teaching art, I enjoy having an outlet to create,” said Ward, who credits?carving with helping her stay in shape while letting her creativity emerge. “I like to say that sawdust is my glitter!”

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How he got the shot: "Ward is a dynamic and powerful woman with a heart of gold," McCoy said. "It was important to show these characteristics in her portrait."

To get that portrait, McCoy headed out to the lean-to style of shelter near some woods that Ward uses as her workshop. The day, unfortunately, was rainy, not the bright, sunny one McCoy had been hoping for.

"This was the only day we could shoot and I couldn't reschedule," he said. "The challenge was making it look like a bright sunny day."

To that effect, McCoy set up three strobes to balance the ambient lighting from the overcast skies. He positioned one at a 180-degree angle to illuminate the background. A second was placed directly behind Ward. The third went slightly to the right of his camera. After about an hour and a half, McCoy had a portrait that he was happy with. Then it was only a matter of cleaning.

"I took my car twice through a car wash to get the mud off my car," he said.


Elizabeth Triggs: Delivering cheer to people in need

Week 12: Elizabeth Triggs, Buffalo. (James P. McCoy/Buffalo News)

4,002 turkey dinners. 500 Christmas meals. 40 Christmas trees. $800 in gift cards. It's been a busy holiday season for Elizabeth Triggs of None Like You/We Care Outreach. She organizes an army of volunteers to help her deliver a little bit of cheer to people in need all over the city and beyond.

Triggs, who has lived in Buffalo her entire life, says that her job is volunteering. She has been doing it 52 weeks a year – for 37 years. "I grew up with eight brothers and sisters, we all volunteered at some point, that is what our mother taught us to do."

"You don't have to have a lot of money to help somebody," she said. "You just use your hands."

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How he got the shot: McCoy photographed Triggs twice. "The first time I shot her, it just didn’t click, so I went back a week later to just observe her work." After an hour of watching people as they came in to greet her, he came up with an idea. McCoy was impressed by all the hands that pitch in to help Triggs accomplish her mission.

He set up a light at a 180-degree angle to the right of Triggs. "I was shooting in a VFW hall and the background was very cluttered. I wanted to light up just a small percentage of the background, using the light this way helped to eliminate the background."

A second light was placed on the left side with a tin-foil snoot directed at her face. "I wanted to illustrate the helping hands." Several volunteers and clients helped by stretching their hands out around Triggs. "After several frames, Mrs. Triggs closed her eyes and I knew I had my photo."


Fahim Mojawalla: Co-owner of Island Ship Center on Grand Island

Week 11: Fahim Mojawalla , Grand Island. (James P. McCoy/Buffalo News)

Fahim Mojawalla travels across the country for his work with Island Ship Center, and he'll tell you there's nowhere quite like Western New York.

"The vibe in Western New York is just unique," he said. "The commutes are short and the people are friendly. There is still an emphasis on family values placed here. My wife and I love raising our kids here because of this ideal."

"What's more, we have amazing summers, outstanding fall foliage and a spectacular spring season."

Mojawalla and his wife moved to Grand Island 15 years ago from Long Island — they wanted to be closer to family in Canada and western Pennsylvania — and appreciate the difference in cost of living and quality of life. As a businessman, he also appreciates the resurgence Buffalo has been experiencing and the overall business climate.

"Business can still be done here through word of mouth, empathy and collaboration," he said, "and we love that!"

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How he got the shot: McCoy first envisioned this portrait with Mojawalla standing in box. Then he realized that Mojawalla was up for a more creative approach and asked him to lie in a box, covered with packing peanuts. "He laughed," McCoy said, "and instantly agreed."

They took a large box and cut a hole in one end. Mojawalla crawled in and laid on his back, face up. His wife then covered him with packing peanuts.

The lighting was simple. McCoy used one small light with a very small snoot, positioned close to Mojawalla's face at a 180-degree angle, to avoid glare on his glasses.

McCoy climbed a ladder to take the shot. Everything went smoothly — until a delivery driver opened the large bay doors nearby, sending packing peanuts flurrying throughout the stockroom.

Said McCoy: "It took longer to pick up the peanuts than the entire shoot took."


Marcus J. Herring: This City of Buffalo firefighter lives to help others

Week 10: Marcus J. Herring, Buffalo (James P. McCoy/Buffalo News)

Marcus J. Herring has been a City of Buffalo firefighter for more than two decades. He likes helping others so much that he stays busy helping people – from driving school buses for Laidlaw to substitute teaching at Westminster Community Charter School. Herring also coaches youth football for the Town of Tonawanda Football Association's Bills, the Cheektowaga Thunderbirds and the Buffalo Ravens.

“My common denominator is helping others,” he said.

For 20 years Herring has helped to organize trips for friends and fans to go watch the Bills play in other cities. Herring said: “Our passion for our Bills is unmatched.”

"For me there is no place like home. We help each other here," he said. "I was born here. My family is here. This is home.”

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How he got the shot: Herring is a search-and-rescue firefighter, so McCoy arranged to do the shoot in the Erie County Fire Training Academy smoke house.

Herring stood in the middle of the room. McCoy put a strobe light behind him, using Herring's body to hide the light and cords, and set up another strobe to the side to illuminate Herring's face. The camera was mounted on a tripod low to the ground. A smoke machine, handled by the chief of training at the academy, created the smoke effect. Another firefighter regulated the smoke by opening and closing the smoke house door.

"Working with a smoke machine is very challenging," McCoy said. "The smoke never stays in one place twice. Every time I thought I had the image, the smoke changed direction and density."


Abby Carlson: Baking her way from Denver to Buffalo

Week 9: Abby Carlson, Amherst (James P. McCoy/Buffalo News)

Abby Carlson got her start in the culinary arts in her home state of Colorado, working in the Denver Broncos football stadium, first as a baker and then as pastry chef. She moved to Portland, Ore., to finish her education at the Oregon Culinary Institute.

After three years working in restaurants, bakeries, cafes and coffee shops in Portland, she and her boyfriend decided to move to Buffalo, where he has family. So far, she's liking it: "The people are wonderful and the fall is beautiful," she said.

Carlson, who has been baking professionally for nine years, enjoys the city on a professional level, too.

"Buffalo is not as far along with their food scene as Denver and Portland," she said, "but it is a very up-and-coming market, which gives people like me a place to show our new creative ideas and showcase things I have learned while helping develop a food scene that is exciting and new."

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How he got the shot:?McCoy found a cafeteria to use for the shoot and asked Carlson to bring some baking utensils. He chose a simple tile wall for a backdrop, propped up the mixing bowl with his camera bag and sprinkled flour over the bowl ... and over Carlson.

There were three lights: One to Carlson's right, high up; a second on the floor, pointing at the wall behind her; and the third directed at the bowl and rolling pins.

When everything was in place, McCoy asked Carlson to pick up flour in both hands and flick it when he clicked the shutter.

"The hardest part of the shoot was getting the flour-flicking timing down. I asked Abby at least 50 times to flick the flour," McCoy said. "We took several breaks to re-apply the flour to Abby and the bowl."

"The fun part," he said, "was cleaning up the flour afterwards."


Tim Ludwig: He loves being (outdoors) in Western New York

Week 8: Tim Ludwig, Depew (James P. McCoy/Buffalo News)

You'll find Tim Ludwig riding his bike along the waterfront almost every night in the summertime.

"I love living in Western New York because of the seasons," he said, "and there's so much to do, especially when it comes to being in the outdoors."

Ludwig, who lives in Depew, is a lifelong resident of Western New York and has plenty of family keeping him here. "I couldn't leave them!" he said.

"Western New York also has the best people. It truly is the City of Good Neighbors."

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How he got the shot:?"I only used two strobes for this image," McCoy said. "I positioned one light off to the side towards his face. The second light was positioned near the ground to light up the bike itself. Both lights were off to the right of Tim."

McCoy had Ludwig jump his bike over four or five ramps in the park multiple times, playing with camera angles, lenses and locations. Once he found a spot he liked, he said, the rest was a breeze — though they did have to shoot around other riders in the park.

"I overpowered the light on Tim and exposed for the background to capture the beautiful sunset," McCoy said. The result? The portrait you see above.


Rich Robbins: He coaches Canisius students to succeed, on the field and off

Week 7: Coach Rich Robbins, Buffalo. (James P. McCoy/Buffalo News)

Rich Robbins grew up near Pittsburgh, where he played four high school sports: football, hockey, lacrosse and wrestling. At Alfred University, he earned a degree in business administration and played on the defensive line on Alfred’s football team.

Robbins’ wife, Diana, is a Buffalo native; she brought Robbins to Western New York in 2003. His coaching career at Canisius High School began in 2006 as an assistant JV football coach. He became varsity defensive coordinator the following season. In 2011, he was named varsity head football coach. During his time as head coach, the Crusaders have won five Monsignor Martin titles and two state titles, including the inaugural state Catholic high school championship in 2014.

“While part of my job is to win football games,” Robbins said, “my main task as an educator is to help our kids develop into responsible and respectful young men, to become the best version of themselves that they can be.”

Robbins, who has a master’s degree in education from Canisius College, says, “My wife brought me to Buffalo as an outsider, but in my decade-plus time at Canisius, training our young men to be the best they can on the field, in the classroom, and in life — I’m proud to be able to call myself a 'Buffalonian' now, too.”

Canisius High School plays teams from New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Ohio, and Robbins loves that opportunity to represent Buffalo and Western New York. “When we travel, we know we represent Canisius," he said, "but we also represent the proud people of Buffalo.”

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How he got the shot: McCoy brought a 7-foot glass storm door insert with him to the shoot. Two people held the glass steady while Robbins drew plays on the glass. "I wanted to see the numbers and letters," McCoy said.

Another person held a light directly on Robbins' face from the floor, shooting upward with a small snoot. McCoy used a side light to provide contrast. He set up his camera to shoot through a hole in a large blackboard to eliminate glare and reflection from the glass.?He also wore dark clothes to minimize his own reflection.

"I took over 50 images," McCoy said. "We drew plays with different sizes and shapes in different locations on the glass to not block his face. This took over an hour to get the perfect image."


Judge Robert T. Russell Jr.: He developed nation's first Veterans Treatment Court

Week 6: Judge Robert Russell, Buffalo. (James P. McCoy/Buffalo News)

City Court Judge Robert T. Russell Jr.'s Veterans Treatment Court has helped hundreds of troubled former military personnel straighten up and stay out of prison.

Since Russell created it in January 2008, the court has paired veterans charged with nonviolent felony or misdemeanor offenses with volunteer veteran mentors, requiring them to adhere to a strict schedule of rehabilitation programs and court appearances. Before that, Russell said, veterans were sent to drug or mental health treatment courts.

Veterans treatment courts can now be found throughout the country.

“This (court) allows us to focus on the veterans’ unique needs and to use vet-to-vet mentoring to help the veterans build and achieve healthy lifestyle goals,” Russell said. "... One of, if not my most, rewarding experience as a judge is working with the men and women that have served in the military."

Russell was born and raised in Buffalo.

“Even though I lived in other cities for short periods of time," Russell said, "nothing could replace the family, people, community and spirit of living in Buffalo.”

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How he got the shot:?"Judge Russell was suggested to me by my boss and he turned out to be a home run," McCoy said.?

"I did a little research into his background and was blown away. My boss jokingly told me, 'Don't call me if he throws you in jail,' " McCoy continued. "I want all my portraits to have a certain feel, and I think she was a little worried about me asking a judge to pose, because I was not going to make just the average courtroom photo."

McCoy brought two cases of lights and an American flag to the courtroom. "I spent more than 30 minutes picking his brain about his court, his unique judging style and the significance of veterans court."

McCoy knew he wanted to incorporate a veteran in the photo and that it wouldn't be easy. "This was not a simple photo shoot."

McCoy asked two court officers to hold the flag as a backdrop and turned off all the lights in the courtroom. "I asked a veteran to stand behind the flag and placed a light directly on him to create a silhouette, and then I asked him to salute."

Judge Russell was positioned off-center to the flag, with a homemade snoot directed on his face. "It took me over 1.5 hours from start to finish to make this image. The judge and his staff were outstanding to work with."


?Jackey Deschamps: She started running marathons in 2012

Week 5: Jackey Deschamps, Town of Tonawanda. (James P. McCoy/Buffalo News)

Jackey Deschamps has completed seven marathons, 20 half marathons, more than 50 other races and covered over 4,000 miles training around Western New York. “We have beautiful parks, bike paths and neighborhoods to run in,” she said.

She still lives about a mile from where she grew up in the Town of Tonawanda.

As a customer service agent for Southwest Airlines at the Buffalo Niagara International Airport, Deschamps travels often. She said that friends she meets while on the road have commented to her that there’s something different about people from Buffalo.

“I can list so many things that I love about Western New York, like going to football games, concerts at Artpark, going to Shea’s, the amazing food, but most of all it’s the sense of community.”

Deschamps says she loves that Buffalo has many of the things found in a big city but with a small-town vibe.

“It’s affordable, life doesn’t revolve around avoiding traffic and there is so much to do, throughout all four seasons.”

She feels a warmth here, “a genuine caring about others I don’t see elsewhere. There’s heart.”

She says when she is out of town and meets someone from Western New York,?they start chatting like old friends. “Of course the conversation ends with ‘Go Bills!’ ”

“I stay here because to me Buffalo is all about family. I’m lucky to have been raised here and to raise my children here.”

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How he got the shot: Deschamps is well-known for wearing crazy running attire in her races, so News photographer James P. McCoy asked her to do that for the portrait. “I also asked if she would bring a few of her medals. She brought them all in a giant bin.”

McCoy selected Delaware Park for the location and checked the weather and sunset times for the week. He picked a day that was likely to have a nice sunset.?On the evening of the shoot, Deschamps had just finished a 21-mile training run for the Chicago marathon. McCoy set up two lights. One light, with a snoot attached, was directed at her face. The second light was positioned to the side to overpower the dwindling sunlight.

“I had my lights on full power to expose for Jackey, allowing the sky to go a little darker,” McCoy said.

Going into the shoot, McCoy had a couple of concepts for the portrait but they weren’t working out at the scene. “So, I asked her to leap for me.?Originally, I wanted a medal around her neck, but after one jump we realized it almost broke her tooth!” He quickly changed the plan to having the medals on her arms. ?“Jackey’s son was helping to hang the medals on her arms.” At McCoy’s direction, Deschamps jumped more than 30 times; each time her son had to replace the medals on her arms. The entire shoot took about 1.5 hours.

“She was exhausted but kept smiling and jumping to get the perfect image. We both had fun with this one,” McCoy said.


James Pici: He's a chef-turned-photographer

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Week 4: James Pici, Grand Island (James P. McCoy/Buffalo News)

James Pici grew up on Grand Island, went to culinary school in Rhode Island and then worked as a chef in Portland, Ore., for three years.

"Living in multiple cities as well as traveling for work has really shown me how much I appreciate the City of Buffalo and the people that live here," Pici said. "It is a close-knit community that is always willing to lend a hand."

When Pici and his girlfriend began talking about starting a family, they realized Buffalo was where they wanted to be.? They packed up their belongings and moved back to pursue his love of photography. One of the things he was glad to return to? Buffalo's weather.

"For me there is nothing better than fall in Buffalo. Leaves are changing, the temperature is perfect, and the Bills are playing — what else could you ask for?

"And for anyone saying they want to move because of the snow, trust me, you'll miss it. I know I did."

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How he got the shot:?McCoy met Pici and knew right away that he needed to include both of Pici's careers in his portrait. "Here he is in a kitchen with all these knives, and they're all incredibly special knives, because they're all dear to him," said McCoy.

He spent time positioning the knives in Pici's hands. That was the easy part; setting up the shoot to include Pici's lights was trickier. The challenge, McCoy said, was to make sure Pici's lights were less powerful than his own.

"I turned on all of his lights, and then I have remote controls, that when my lights go off that light him, his lights go off," McCoy said.

An hour and a half later, McCoy's most complicated portrait shoot to date was completed.


Molly Dee: Her roots to Western New York run deep

Portraits of WNY_Molly Dee_McCoy

Week 3: Molly Dee, Hamburg (James P. McCoy/Buffalo News)

Molly Dee's roots to Western New York run deep: Her family has been here since the early 1800s. She and her husband raised five children (two sets of twins) in Hamburg. She was an art teacher in Buffalo schools for years.

And there's nowhere else she'd rather be.

"My paintings have taken me many places, but I’ve always returned to Western New York," Dee said. "It’s where family is and it’s home."

After a ?27-year teaching career, Dee began painting when she was 50. On her studio wall you can find remnants of all the paintings she's done. Of those, she said: "They are all unique, just like the people of Western New York."

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How he got the shot: Dee's daughter suggested that McCoy consider her mother for this series.

"I went to her studio and I didn't want to leave," said McCoy, who was fascinated by the wall that carries traces of Dee's work. "Every painting she's done has been painted on that wall. That's a piece of artwork by itself."

McCoy set Dee up with the wall as a backdrop and put up a light to illuminate a bit of the wall.

"I got that (image) on the first shot, which is almost impossible," he said.


Derrick Norman and Richard Peterson: Bills fans know them as Chef Norm and Chef Poo

Derrick Norman and Richard Peterson, known to Bills fans as Chef Norm and Chef Poo (James P. McCoy/Buffalo News)

Week 2: Derrick Norman and Richard Peterson (James P. McCoy/Buffalo News)

Derrick Norman and Richard Peterson started tailgating together in the old radio row at Bills games more than 20 years ago. The two friends, known to Bills tailgaters as the Chefs, graduated from Seneca Vocational High School in 1984, where they played football together. Norman played running back and cornerback; Peterson played wide receiver and defensive end.

In 1995 they attended a game together. As Peterson recalls, “We spent $25 each on food and drinks and realized we were still hungry and thirsty. We figured if we bought our own food and drinks with the $50 we could eat a lot more.

“We started with a tabletop hibachi grill in the trunk of the car. Now, 20-plus years later, we tailgate with 150-plus people, and the grill is on a quarter-ton trailer.”

Peterson said, “I came up with the chef hats and said to Norm, ‘Let's wear the hats in the game.’ Norm was resisting, saying, ‘Man, we're going to look stupid.’ I convinced him to wear the hat, and the rest is history.”

They both say that their favorite place in Western New York is the parking lot in Orchard Park, surrounded by their friends and family, and in their seats when it’s game time.

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How he got the shot: “I've been covering the Bills since 1983, so I travel a lot,” McCoy said, “and everywhere I went, I'd see these guys on the road.”

McCoy struck up a conversation with them. “What’s your thing?” he asked the men, who told him they just really loved the Bills and chose to make – and give away – food at every tailgate they attend.

For this project, he said, “I wanted people that are ordinary people who do extraordinary things.” Chef Norm and Chef Poo fit that bill.

McCoy wanted to do the shoot in the stadium, but that didn’t work out. Instead, they set up across the street, with Norman and Peterson standing on a giant rock to get the angle right. Friends of the chefs came along and lent a helping hand with McCoy’s lights.

“I tried to simulate them at a Bills game,” McCoy said. “That's the way they sit. That's how they always sit.”


Kelly Morgan: This Grand Island resident got healthy with her huskies

Portraits of WNY- Kelly Morgan-McCoy-2019

Week 1: Kelly Morgan (James P. McCoy/Buffalo News)

Kelly Morgan runs every day with at least one, but on occasion all five, of her huskies. It all depends on who wants to go.

Her dedication to the sport and to her dogs has helped her lose over 90 pounds.

"It's a great stress reliever," Morgan said. She hasn't missed a day in 13 years.

Morgan loves the winters in Western New York because, she said, that's the best time to run: "There is nothing like the feeling of snow falling while I am running."

Morgan, who moved here from San Jose with her parents 22 years ago, plans to retire in the Buffalo area. Her mother is originally from Buffalo and her father is from Lackawanna.

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How he got the shot: "I'm a runner," said McCoy, a fellow resident of Grand Island. "As runners, we see each other. ... Everybody knows this woman."

Morgan agreed to let McCoy photograph her, so they met up on her running route. He brought portable lights: one for her, one for the dogs. "I made it a little bit of a portable studio," McCoy said.

He lay on the ground and tried to get the dogs' attention — "I don't talk dog, so I was saying 'Here, kitty, kitty' — then took about 25 images, 3 seconds between each so the lights could recycle.

The entire shoot took about five minutes.

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Would you like to suggest someone to be featured? Please email? Cathaleen Curtiss, director of photography, at

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