Through Richard Phibbs’ camera lenses, shelter animals are being given a second chance at happiness and finding a forever loving home.
For the past two years, the 18-year veteran photographer — whose work has appeared in worldwide publications such as Vanity Fair, Vogue and GQ — has been volunteering his time to helping The Humane Society of New York get the faces of its shelter animals out into the world.
Every few weeks, Phibbs replaces his usual celebrities and fashion models with dogs, cats, birds and even rabbits — all who are looking for a family to call their own.
“As a photographer I’ve always wanted to take a picture that actually does something other than sell clothes or promote someone’s career,” Phibbs said. “Photography has a great ability to speak the truth.”
Through the portraits, Phibbs captures the personality of each individual animal — many of whom have experienced abuse or were neglected before arriving at The Humane Society of New York.
Phibbs recalls in one case, a police officer found a small dog imprisoned inside a box and brought it to the shelter at 306 E. 59th St. Phibbs describes the dog having looked like “the ghost of a dog” and one of the worst cases of abuse he had seen.
Through intensive medical care, a surgery that had to remove one of the dog’s eyes, and a lot of love from the staff at the shelter, the dog was able to make a healthy recovery.
After being photographed, the dog — who was named Little Lowell — found a loving home and now even has his own Instagram page.
“I just did this to help out but it blew up to this other thing and I know for a fact that this has inspired other photographers to do the same thing,” Phibbs said.
Along with hoping to help get the animals adopted, Phibbs — who recently adopted a dog from the shelter himself — added that the work he does is aimed at spreading awareness to the public of shelter animals.
He hopes that seeing these animals in a new light will help take away the negative connotations most people feel when hearing about shelters.
“It’s not only to get these animals specific homes but it’s to let people know that shelter animals are of value and they make great family members,” Phibbs said. “Some people think of them as damaged goods but they’re not.”
The native Canadian, who has been living in New York City for over 20 years, added that although people have commented that some of the photographs are “sad” he wants people to see that in life there is hope and things can get better.
Later this year, Phibbs will also release a book called “Rescue Me” featuring various portraits paired up with their stories and updates and where the animals are now.
“If you are an animal and make it to The Humane Society of New York, you got it made. They will make sure you get put into a loving forever home,” he said.
For Sandra DeFeo, executive director for the no-kill shelter, getting the chance to work with Phibbs has been one she is grateful for since the very beginning when he donated his photographs during one of the shelter’s auctions.
She added that Phibbs goes beyond just snapping a photograph. Instead, he sits down and relates to the animals —even talks to them. He also takes his time to spread the stories of animals and encourages others to adopt.
“From the beginning he’s been very generous and very giving because he really loves animals and it shows in the portraits,” she said.
According to DeFeo, since Phibbs has begun photgraphing the animals the shelter has seen a significant increase in adoptions — with some animals receiving multiple applications. She believes that through each portrait, people are able to see the personality of each animal, ultimately bringing them to the shelter.
“He always makes a difference in the animals’ lives,” DeFeo said. “It’s so important the work that he does with us because some people won’t visit a shelter but they’ll see the photo and say this is the dog for me.”