We all love our pets. They're cute, they're loveable, and they're the kind of best friend who won't say anything when - oh I don't know - we put everything on the line and pursue our passions.
There's nothing pet owners love more than showing off photos of their furry friend. That's where Marika Moffitt of Dirtie Dog Photography comes in. With a passion for storytelling and tightening that connection of the human-animal bond, Moffitt launched her pet photography business to connect with people through their pet's stories.
Moffitt studied photography in 2007 but didn't know what she wanted to do with it. It wasn't until 10 years later when she decided to quit her day job and pursue her passion of photographing animals.
Driven by the power of the human-animal connection, she's experienced life-changing events that have shifted the way she looks at animals and the stories they tell. Ultimately, she loves being able to connect with people over their pets and capture their memories in a different light.
It wasn't always easy, however. She's experienced many of the ups and downs female entrepreneurs are presented with: the internal pressure to prove oneself, the feeling of owing an explanation to loved ones, fighting depression and substance abuse, and overcoming mental obstacles to make dreams come true.
In the end, she's striving to learn and grow every day to become a community collaborator and visual storyteller. She has a powerful and beautiful story and I'm so honored to be able to share it with you today.
So, without further ado...
Read her inspiring journey in the full interview below:
Ashley Hoffman (AH): So, tell me what got you into starting a dog photography business?
Marika Moffitt (MM): I'd say it was a long process to get to the point where I specialize in pet photography. The funny thing is, when I was a child, I knew I loved doing it. The animals I had in my life when I was a kid are what actually got me into photography, but it literally took decades for me to understand this is what I should be doing every day of my life. This is what I should be spending my time doing for other people.
I went to photography school in 2007 over in Missoula, Montana. But even at that time, I wasn't aware of the fact that I would end up doing pet photography. I was more concentrated on my own artwork. I was just sort of discovering myself. and didn't really think of the idea of doing portrait work. It didn't seem like something I’d want to be doing because I actually thought of it more as like family portraits. And that's not something that I wanted to do.
When I came home from school, I did end up kind of dabbling in everything. Photographing some weddings, senior portraits, music photography, but I never took the leap to go full-time. The thing about photography school is that it concentrated on the photography aspect, but didn't really give a foundation on how to run a business.
We did create a business plan, but there was no direction on how to actually run and maintain a business. I didn't actually take the leap to go full time until 2017. I left my day job because I was tired of living and working for someone else's dream. Last year, I did so much studying and learned so many things about running a photography business. It's been absolutely amazing.
AH: How important do you think the human-animal bond is?
MM: The thing about the human-animal bond that really hits home for me is that I believe animals have the ability to serve as a bridge between humans no matter their stories. There isn't just one type of person who loves and connects with animals.
When we are able to share the stories of the animals we love with one another, we are having a genuine connection that makes our lives better, even if it’s only for that moment.
When we share our stories, or even when we share stories that we've been told, that connection continues almost like a ripple effect. So there's one story I've been telling a lot at events when I am just standing around talking with people who love animals. Recently, I had an experience that really changed my life.
I had never spent any time with cows growing up. I grew up with horses, dogs, cats and even ducks, but never really spent any time around cows. Earlier this summer, I was photographing some Scottish Highland cattle for a local nonprofit that I work with called Skagit Animals In Need (SAIN).
I went out to where they had a bunch of their rescue cattle one day specifically to photograph this calf that had been rejected by its mother after it was born. The foster family had to actually bring this calf into their home and bottle feed it. They call her Winnie the Moo.
I went there to take portraits of Winnie for a special project we are working on for SAIN. I get there, and this calf is running around a field having the time of her life with her best friend who happens to be a dog.
So, I get out of my car, and this calf comes over to me, and she immediately starts licking everything that I own. She was so friendly and so sweet, and I was amazed. And then she and the dog just start playing with each other and running around. It was just so eye-opening for me because I had never seen that in my life.
And then to see her connection with her foster was really special because this is the person who's cared for her, and basically saved her from the other cattle and has been raising her.
The photo session we did was very special because it wasn’t just taking photos of a cow running around in a field. We did some of those, but this is actually more of an artistic project for a calendar.
Usually, when I tell the story, I have an image that I show people and it's not something you would ever expect a photo of a cow to look like. It really helps to share the story of this calf because it elevates it. It takes it out of the element of it being this animal that lives this life in a field or in a barn. It's really special.
I see this change in people when I share the story about this calf. They go from having an assumption about what the life of a cow is, to then hearing this story about this little calf that basically thinks she’s a dog now. They look at the portraits and are seeing something beyond what their own ideas are.
It's just amazing.
AH: What has been your biggest motivation as you've been growing your business?
MM: The thing that drives me is knowing that my business is the key to a future that will allow me to do great things with what I have built. I didn't know when I set out to do this full time I that I would be so in love with having my own business.
I always knew that working for someone else, and someone else's dream wasn't quite right for me. But it took a long time to get over that, to realize that's okay. My calling has always been and will always be to work for something greater and to be the one making the decisions.
The funny thing about being an entrepreneur is that people who aren't entrepreneurs tend to think, “oh, go work for yourself so you can take any day off and go on vacations, and you're the boss, you do what you want." And, and yeah, sure that’s somewhat true, but it's also not true because I don't really ever take a day off.
I don't go on vacations because my job doesn't end. I'm always working on my business because there's always something to do and I actually love it. I know there will be a day when I have to find more of a balance because I do need to take a vacation.
I do need to take a day or two off. I do want to have a family all of these things. But my biggest motivation is that my business is the thing that is going to take my family and me to the places in life that I dream about.
AH: What has been one of your biggest struggles so far?
MM: I think one of my biggest struggles, has always been battling those voices or ideas that I'm not worthy or feeling like I have to prove something to people that I really don't owe anything to.
I tend to kind of keep a lot of things in as far as what my plans are, or what my goals are, unless it's with fellow business owners who understand this journey. But with people who are closer to me, even though I know they support me, I tend to not clue them in on everything because I don't want to feel like I have to justify my choices. And so I think that's a big struggle.
I really would love to be able to feel more open and free about that. But I think one of the biggest things I'm learning is that it's okay to not share all of those details with every single person that knows me because they don't necessarily understand it.
I struggle with that because there are always going to be those people that I really want them to see how hard I'm working and see my successes and understand that this isn't just some hobby or just some little dream. It's actually a legitimate business that can do absolutely amazing things not just for my family and me, but for my community and hopefully for the world in some way.
I know this is what I am meant to be doing. I don't want to spend my life only doing things that other people see as “worthy.” I know what my calling is, and following that is more important than proving my worth.
AH: Have you always seen yourself as a pet photographer? If you were to go back 10 years from now, what would "past you" think of "future you"?
MM: Oh man, ten years ago.
It took me a really long time to get to where I am today. Ten years ago, I knew in my heart what I wanted to do with my life, but I didn't have the courage to go for it. Five years ago, my husband and I - before we got married - moved here to Seattle to pursue our dreams. He's a musician. And I wanted to start my pet photography business here.
We moved here and it's really expensive. So, we had to get day jobs to afford to live. I was doing my pet photography on the side, but not really focusing on it enough. And a big part of that is the fact that I struggled for quite a while with alcohol abuse and depression. It’s amazing how that can really keep you from being the person you want to be.
I’m actually four years sober now. The day I quit drinking was the day I decided my life was going to be what I wanted it to be. Pretty much everything I have and everything I am today is because of that choice.
I was in a workshop a couple months ago where we just weren't talking about our past or talking about things we want to do with our lives. This idea came out to me that today I am the person that five years ago I so desperately wanted to be. I could say that now, compared to 10 years ago, I am the person that I wanted to be.
I'm still growing, but if I could go back and talk to that person I was 10 years ago, I and tell them that it's going to be rough but you're going to come out of it and you're going to be kicking so much ass and you're going to be so happy and you're going to be doing all of these things that you have wanted to be doing.
I could go on forever about women drinking and especially being in the creative field and how that affects our lives. But that's a whole other conversation I'm I'm really passionate about. Being where I am today is really, really special for me.
I just want to encourage anyone, especially any other women who are struggling - whether it's with depression or struggling with substance abuse - to just reach out for help and and understand that if you have a dream if there's something you want to do, you can absolutely do it. You just have to figure out what that thing is that's holding you back and just remove it from your life.
AH: What's your favorite part about what you do?
MM: My favorite part of what I do is definitely connecting with people. Whether they become a client or not isn't as important as maybe you think it'd be. It's really just being able to connect with people who love animals, and listen to their stories.
I love the animals I get to spend time with, but the thing is that it's really about the people. It’s about hearing their stories, hearing their pet's stories, and even if their pets are no longer living hearing those stories. I just absolutely love connecting with them.
If they're a client, I love being able to help them capture those stories and create beautiful pieces of artwork that then will help them share their pet stories long after their pets are gone.
I see what I do in this work as not just taking photos and not just selling products that are beautiful. It's really helping people to hold on to these animals that they love so much. Then helping to give them a way to tell their stories that will then change other people's lives and help them connect with other people.
AH: What is your biggest learning point so far?
MM: I had this moment a little over a year ago where my whole entire mindset changed about what it is I'm doing. I think a lot of photographers, we all start with this idea of like, oh, we're artists, and our work is so personal to us. It can be really hard to run a business because how do you put a price tag on this artwork that means so much to you?
I had that mindset for a really long time, but a little over a year ago, I had this total change where I realized that this isn’t about me anymore. It's not about proving how talented I am or proving that I'm great or amazing or anything like that. It has nothing to do with that anymore. It’s about the people that need my help. It's about their stories. It's about what I can do to help them remember the animals they love.
So I've really tried to focus my business in that light, and move in that direction of making sure that the people who come to me understand that I'm here for them that I'm not here to boost my ego or anything like that. I’m here to help them tell their pet’s stories so that their stories don’t have to end when they are gone.