aArdvark Arists, co-founded by Zizi Zarkadas and photographer Mike Ruiz, is a small photo agency dealing mostly with beauty, fashion, music, celebrity and ad clients. Zarkadas is also on the board of Bullies and Buddies Rescue, an adoption/rescue agency for pit bulls in Hermosa Beach, California, and spends every weekend volunteering her time at adoption events. One of aArdvark’s photographers, Ryan Cleveland, also volunteers and asked if the dogs that needed the most help, the large hard to place bully breeds, could be photographed. Zarkadas tells PDN via e-mail, “Ryan decided to shoot ‘glamour’ photographs, something that would really stand out and make people notice so that these dogs would get more exposure (and shares) on Facebook, Twitter etc.” The shoots were done at both training and boarding facilities.
Cleveland tells PDN via e-mail, “I’ve called on friends in the fashion and photography industry to help however they can, and many have donated fabrics to be used as back drops and props to be used for dressing and styling. With these items, and the help of other volunteers, I was able to access areas inside of specific boarding houses to set up a small studio with a few lights, backdrop and my camera. Being that most of these dogs have come from less than ideal circumstances, they are often a little anxious and scared when put on the spot in front of the lens … I have learned that dogs, like most people, don’t like a camera shoved in their faces and it’s generally better to use a long lens and shoot from further back … I get asked often by those who are misinformed about why I put myself ‘at risk’ working with bully breeds, and each time I respond by telling them that I’ve yet to work with a pit bull or bully breed that has been anything other than the sweetest, most affectionate dog I’ve come across. The truth is that these animals have been grossly misrepresented and misunderstood, and my ultimate goal is to try and convey, through the portraits that I take, the true loving spirit of these animals. In doing so, I’m hoping to get rid of the misinformed stigma that is attached to these dogs and to get them some much needed exposure in the hopes that they might find the loving homes they deserve.”