Interview with Robert Sijka
One man and his cats
By Anita Kelsey
Our fascination with anything cat is out of control and does not seem to be diminishing.
Humans have become obsessed with cat photos, cat stories, cat videos, cat books, cat programmes, cat rescues, cat gadgets, cat prints, in fact anything that displays a set of whiskers and large eyes. Cat owners have filled the internet with videos and photos of their fur balls playing, sleeping, yawning, being cute with other animals, swimming, eating, staring into space – you name it and it’s there on You Tube, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and myriad other social media sites with some cats earning their lucky owners millions by having a quirk that is easily marketed into a brand like Grumpy Cat, A Street Cat Named Bob and Lil Bub.
And so it was, in these cat obsessed crazy times and whilst getting my own daily fix of cat paraphernalia, that I crashed head first into the work of Robert Sijka.
It all started when I stumbled across the striking photo of Dolce Vita and De La Loo – two of the most majestic black Maine Coons I had ever seen and photographed beautifully on a simple black background.
Drawn in by those large yellow eyes, with the potential to hypnotise whoever dared stare back, I promptly searched for the photographer and unleashed a fascinating story which connected Poland to China and the first ever Maine Coon cattery in China and breeding hobby. My research also uncovered the most mesmerising cat photos with a charm and style that captures the breed so well and shows Robert Sijka to be one of the best cat photographers in the world.
I asked Robert Sijka for an interview so that he could tell his story in his own words.
- You take amazing photo’s of cats. Can you tell me how you first became interested in photographing them?
Thank you very much for the compliment, I’m very glad that you like my photos. In fact, cats came first and photography showed up later. Ten years ago my family and I had the opportunity to move to China. After a while we started to miss the company of animals, they have always been in our lives. The dog was first, later a cat we rescued from the street. Then we heard about Maine Coons and we brought one from Europe. Now we have fallen in love with this breed.In the blink of an eye several cats were walking around the house. Of course, pretty soon we wanted to have our own kittens and our adventure with breeding began.Then we came to the question, how to present our cats to the world? I think my journey with photography started at this moment. There was only one answer to this question, I needed to learn photography. I started collecting necessary equipment, learning the basics of photography and I took my first photos. During this process, I found great pleasure in taking pictures. Playing with cats and taking their pictures gave me a lot of joy. I decided that my pictures shouldn’t look like all other beautiful cat pictures, they must be something special. I started experimenting with light, backgrounds and retouching.After several thousand photos I ended up with my current style.
- Most of your cats are Maine Coons? What makes you love this breed so much?
Ninety-nine percent of our cats are Maine Coon although we have rescued a street cat and purchased one Persian cat. Oh, there are so many things in Maine Coons, we can talk about their advantages for hours. But generally what impresses me the most is their size, intelligence and loyalty. I was always fascinated by large wild cats and the size of the Maine Coon gives me a sense of communing with big cats. Besides, they are extremely intelligent, sometimes they can outsmart even us. Before Maine Coons I always thought that all cats are walking their own path and don’t care about people. Now I know that that’s not true, I have a few MC girls which follow me everywhere and they are more loyal than our dog. Maine Coons are also very communicative and talkative. Discussion with them always gives us lots of smiles.
- I believe you are from Poland. What made you choose to settle in China?
Yes, we are a Polish family who came to China ten years ago. Why China? Probably because it is the best place to do business and is quite a different world than the one we know in Europe. Staying here has given us a lot of new experiences and completely changed our perspective on many things.
- How difficult is it to run the only Maine Coon cattery in China? Is there a big demand for this type of cat in China and are your family the main breeders of Maine Coons in China?
Currently, we are not the only Maine Coon cattery in China, but I can say that we were the first! Practically we introduced this breed in China, but still Maine Coons are not as popular here as in Europe or USA. We are doing our best to propagate the breed and teach the Chinese how wonderful MC’s are. Because of the size and population of China many people are already interested in buying a Maine Coon but still many of them are not ready for a cat. We have put a lot of effort into finding the right people who we can trust and entrust our kittens.More and more catteries are coming every year but as we see many of them are set to make a money 🙁 Many do it at low cost and often use cages but this happens everywhere around the world.
- What is the attitude to cats in China as a general rule? Do you feel attitudes are changing?
You know, at the beginning a few people from Europe refused to sell cats to us, because they thought we would eat them. There are a lot of stereotypes in the world, including such that in China everyone eats cat. Fortunately this is not true. The new generation of Chinese people don’t eat dogs and cats. Of course it still happens sometimes but in marginal dimension.As I said earlier, many people would like to have a pet, but they are not ready yet. This is the very beginning and nobody told them how to love and treat animals. It is also one of our missions here. We encountered many very difficult cases but we also have had our first successes already. I think that from year to year it’s getting better and the next generation will catch up with the rest of the world.
- You have a unique style of photography. Talk us through the way you work with the cats to get the photo you want?
Uniqueness is probably the most important thing for a photographer, so I’m glad you noticed this. In my opinion, the most important thing in photography is the vision and patience. From a technical point of view I use a very simple setup, usually it is one light, simple table and background which most often is not even intended for photography. The real secret behind my photography is called patience, sometimes I have to spend a couple of hours and take hundreds of images to get this one perfect picture which I previously had imagined.The best way to get the cat’s attention is playing with them, we play a lot!!! We do a lot of hunting and toy chasing.The main thing for me is to capture the face expression, I love their eyes and emotions which flow from them. I’m always waiting for that one special moment when a cat gives me this one perfect look.As you can see mostly I use dark and simple backgrounds to direct all attention to the cat.
- Most of your cats are extraordinary looking. For instance the two black cats pictured above. Are these your cats? A lot of people have been asking me about them so perhaps you could tell us who they are and where they came from?
Oh yes, the black sisters are my favourites, generally I love black cats. They are such majestic and mystical. The names of these two beauties are Dolce Vita ( black ) and De La Loo (black smoke). They were born in our house, live with us and are sisters. They perfectly represent a wild look Maine Coons have developed in Europe and we are very proud of them. Additional the sisters are wonderful models, always ready for a session.
- Anything else you would like to add about cats, your love of them and your love of photographing them.
I would like to thank my wife who is the engine of our cattery and without her I would never have discovered my passion and never have had such wonderful models.Also big thanks to you for your interest and to all my fans who support my photography.
You can also find his calendars published in the UK with more coming by end of the year.All photo’s on this page are copyright 2015 Robert Sijka.————————————————————————————-About the author
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Anita Kelsey holds a first class honours degree in Feline Behaviour and Psychology (work based BA Hons) and runs a vet referral service dedicated strictly to the diagnosis and treatment of behaviour problems in cats. She is also a qualified cat groomer and specialises in grooming aggressive or phobic cats. Anita writes for Your Cat Magazine and is on their experts panel answering readers questions on cat grooming. She also advises on feline behaviour for the CFBA (Canine and Feline Behaviour) magazine as well as being a full member. Anita, a strong advocate of a vegan lifestyle, is based in London but consults all over the UK as well as international requests. She lives with her husband, a music producer, and two Norwegian Forest cats, Kiki and Zaza. Visit http://www.catbehaviourist.com.
Her first book ‘Claws. Confessions Of A Professional Cat Groomer‘ is published by John Blake with second book, Let’s Talk About Cats, Conversations On Feline Behaviour, out November 28th.