Photographer and recent Portland transplant Michael Cogliantry spends his days creating images for big-name commercial clients like GQ and McDonald's. But he spends his nights shooting people pretending to bone in animal costumes. Call it a creative release. Chronicle has just released Furverts ($12.95), a chunky little blue board-book of Cogliantry's "Furry Kama Sutra" images—complete with a plush hole in the cover. The mockumetary-style assignations—which include everything from a reindeer servicing a panda in a bathtub to a wolf pile-driving a lamb at a seedy Vegas motel—are weird and downright hilarious. When the lifelong East Coaster presented a show of his sexy-beast shots at Portland's Nemo Design last year, he became instantly hooked on the city's laidback lifestyle. So last October he bought a '50s-era "grandma camper" and headed out to Portland with his wife, 3-year-old child and 100-pound pit bull mix in tow. WW grabbed a beer last week with the curl-topped 35-year-old to find out who was really inside that seal costume.
WW: Do you have sex with people in fuzzy costumes?
Michael Cogliantry: Listen…. I've never done it. But, it's like the French say: "Never say never."
OK, how'd you come up with these photos?
Basically the "Furry Kama Sutra" was a bar idea I had with my friends…sometimes I get more creative work done at happy hour than I do at the office. I do magazine portraits and commercial advertising stuff and the rest of the time I try to devote to stuff like Furverts. That's what keeps me energized about photography. It was shot over a long weekend in Las Vegas [in the] cheapest, dirtiest motels…like, $25 for four hours. The grossest one was the [set for the] cat and the dog. I've worked in third world countries and this is the grossest place I've ever been in. It was just…yuck.
I was gonna do the project in New York City, but it turned out it cost around $250 to rent a costume. But in Las Vegas they're more like $50-$75…way more cost-effective. My personal work is all self-funded. Also, Las Vegas for a photographer is a dream. There's no bad angles…it's all fucked up. And nobody bats an eye [about what you're doing]. When we returned everything, the old guy at the costume shop literally started looking for holes in the costumes. So…it's happened before.
How much furry-culture research did you do? Was this a serious anthropological study?
Uh, no…I didn't know much except that there were people that dress up as animal sports mascots and have sex together. There's something hilarious about that. If you type in "furry art" into Google Images you should see the shit that comes up. It's insane. It makes what I did very tame. It's mostly drawings…which are much creepier.
Who was in the costumes?
One was my wife and one was my ex-best friend who won't talk to us anymore [not for reasons related to Furverts]. It was a little weird at first. At one point the video guy [who was with us during the shoot] yelled, "Pound the vag!" and I was like, I don't know if I can go through with this....
What was the toughest part of the shoot?
Matching up the animals to masculine and feminine parts. The cat and the dog were easy—cat's a girl, dog's a boy. Or fox and chicken. But a gorilla and a skunk? No one could figure that one out. And what do you do with a kangaroo?
You mean the photo where the kangaroo is giving head to a frog sitting on an air-conditioning unit?
Uh, yeah. We left that one ambiguous.
What animals didn't make the cut?
The lobster. Its costume was awesome, but it was more expensive. All the arms and…lobster parts….
How'd it end up a book?
I actually [shot] the project four years ago, and it was on my website as, like, a promotional piece. Chronicle saw it a year and a half ago and said, "Would you be interested in turning this into a book?" I didn't even shop it around.
How are the furries reacting to the book?
I'm getting so much hate mail right now. Maybe 20 so far…from people called, like, "The Skunk" and "The Troll." They think I'm slanderous in trying to suggest this is what all furries do [for many it's not a sexual act]…. And they say their costumes are better.
To be fair, did you ever talk to a furry before shooting?
Not exactly. When I first had the idea I started going online onto furry forums; I wanted to schedule the shoot during a furry convention. But the conventions bar the media—they won't allow any outside photographers in. Eventually I decided to just do what I wanted to do…it's not a documentary. I got one letter that said, "Obviously this isn't real. But if you ever want to shoot the real thing, contact me." And then others that say, "This [the sex stuff] never happens."
So, wait, the furries are telling you they never have furry sex?
I think the furries are a very divided group of…people. Animals. Animal-people.
What's the difference between being a photographer in N.Y. and Portland?
Eighty percent of what comes out of Portland in terms of big-deal advertising shots is outdoors- and sports-related. Brands come here to take advantage of…the mountains and coast. And me, I'm not sporty in any way—I grew up being the last one picked for gym. So, my next [personal] project is an anti-sports campaign. The pictures look like ads for Adidas or Nike, but [they're all] just disasters. I [heard] about this hiker in Utah that had to cut his own arm off [after it was crushed by a boulder.] Of course, it was a news story, so there was no picture…I decided I'd make that picture. I'm also doing a series on sort of useless SkyMall products for the economic downturn…like a rotisserie grill for squirrels.
If you were a furry, what would your costume be?
[Silence]. This is something I need to think about.
No. Answer now!
Crocodile. Short little legs.
And your wife?
I have to pick something that goes with a crocodile.
No, you don't. Isn't that the beauty of the furries? That any animal can have sex with another animal?
That's true…I think I've proven that…. You know, I think she'd be the seal. She really liked that costume.
Furverts: The Video
A Video Interview With Michael Cogliantry
(Chronicle, 24 pages, $12.95) is now available at local bookstores.