Kangaroo Portraits Help Rescue Wildlife in Fire-Devastated Australia
Photographer Kristopher Rutherford wants to save animals affected by Australia’s wildfires
By Trichelle Lee and Lindsey Logan
Kristopher Rutherford is a man with a camera and a mission. For 14 years, the cinematographer and photographer began creating animal portraits – of dogs, mostly – as a side project. At the start of 2019, Rutherford had the opportunity to work at a Texas zoo to take pictures of other animals, including kangaroos. “The whole purpose for that was, how do you take an animal out of the typical visual context you would see them in and evoke their personality in a portrait that was a little bit more artsy?” he says.
The zoo used the images for educational materials but “then the photos kind of sat on a hard drive,” according to Rutherford. When heartbreaking headlines broke about the devastating Australia wildfires, which killed an estimated one billion animals, Rutherford began selling prints of his kangaroo portraits and donating 100 percent of the profits to WIRES, Australia’s largest wildlife rescue organization. Rutherford spoke with Tribeza about his efforts to make a difference and the incredible response he’s getting.
You’re pretty well-traveled thanks to a decade of working in cinematography. Do you have any special connection to Australia that drives you to want to lend a helping hand?
I have no ties with Australia at all. I don’t know anyone who lives there. I moved to Austin from Houston fourteen years ago and I do remember going back to Houston after hurricane Harvey. I saw the house that I grew up in completely underwater so I had some connection with disaster and how overwhelming and devastating it is. We were watching the news one morning and my wife said, “Hey do you still have those photos you took of kangaroos?” I said, “yes,”and she said, “You should sell them and see what happens.”
Did your efforts to help animals in Australia immediately take off or did they take time to build an audience? How have people responded to your efforts?
We decided on a price scale and threw it out there to see what would happen. We were like, “Alright, let’s give it through the end of February and see what we can get.” We thought we would get maybe $700 to $1,000 over the course of eight weeks. We got that in less than a day. It was really humbling because those files would have been lost on a hard drive forever. The news found out about it and we did a story with them. That doubled everything and then at that point I’m literally stuffing envelopes with prints and my hand is about to go numb from writing addresses. So far we’ve had people from across the planet, across nationalities, races and sexualities come together but it’s been really amazing to see this hodgepodge community of people say, “Okay we’re going to donate and be a part of whatever we can be a part of.”
Do you do all the photo printing yourself or do you work with a vendor?
I’ve done a lot of printing with Holland Photo Imaging on South Lamar. We approached them with this idea and said, “Hey, this is what we want to do, let’s talk about cost.” They gave us a massive discount and are a part of this happening because they’re making it financially possible to sell prints [cheaply] but still make a profit to be used as a donation. They’re the backend heroes that make it worthwhile.
It’s amazing to hear so many people want to help animals in Australia. Are there plans to expand and take your project to the next level? Is there a next level?
At this point we have a few weeks left and there’s a handful of us that have committed to spend a couple days a week stuffing envelopes and writing out labels and prints. Shipping globally is a lot more expensive so we made a digital option.
Where can those interested in helping the animals affected by the wildfires purchase these amazing prints?
We created kangarooprints.com, and all we need is a name, an address, a Venmo or Paypal.
Finally, what was it like working with the kangaroo during the photoshoot?
The kangaroo was actually like really laid-back … We let him come into the studio and he hung out for about 15 to 20 minutes and we didn’t set off the lights at all. We just let him get used to his environment and then once the zookeeper said it was okay to test the light, we flashed and the kangaroo just kind of stood there. I think he was probably pretty confused but we only got to do like 10 to 12 shots total because when you’re dealing with exotics you never want to overload them … It was a neat experience. In these photos, I’m probably like seven feet away from him … with no cage between us, no wall, just you and the animal.