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Hang in There!: A Historical Perspective
Their fear provides us hope...
In 1826 the French inventor Nicéphore Niépce produced what is widely considered the first permanent photograph. Few know that that seminal image consisted of his pet kitten, Croissant, humorously hanging from a silken rope. Due to an exposure time that was a ghastly eight hours Croissant was forced to dangle for what seemed an eternity. Niépce lovingly murmured "coup dedans là" to keep the kitten motivated and aloft. And thus the phrase "Hang in There" was first uttered in French. Alas, poor Croissant was never to be the same, noticeably limping from that day forth.
Kittens have been hanging in ever since, bringing smiles to faces and joy to barren walls the world around. At times it seems that the medium of the poster was invented for their great purpose.
The unfortunate trailblazer, Croissant, did not suffer in vain... a rich history would follow. A history that would find kittens hanging in there amongst the company of kings and queens, captains of industry, presidents and dignitaries. These selfless kittens would lift spirits the world over. Prison cells would burst with brightness and hope when a kitten hung precariously from incarcerated walls. During the Great Depression "Hang in There" posters were used as stock for soup, their message filling bellies with optimism. Some conspiracy theorists argue that the U.S. became involved in the Vietnam Conflict only after Ho Chi Minh was seen hanging from a branch with a kitten sandwich in one hand. Dick Cheney is said to have a secret room in his house, one with "Hang in There" posters plastered floor to ceiling, the soft sounds of Air Supply on continuous loop. As time marches ever forward the kittens hang forever on, a symbol of resolve the world may need now more than ever.
There have been imitators. Raccoons, chimpanzees, frogs, teddy bears... Through the years they have stormed the castle ruled by kittens and one by one they have plummeted into obscurity.
It is mistakenly believed that a photographer needs little more than a kitten, something to hang from and a modicum of patience. There are elements at work, forces at play that dictate otherwise. You need the right kitten at the right time, an ability to coax fear from your subject, a fear far greater than the mere worry dangling imposes and, above all, the photographer must possess a clear head and a true heart. He or she must remember the great debt kittens have paid throughout the years. A debt which we can only repay by taking heed of the message these proud pawed hangers have given us.
There is a great power behind this timeless image, a strength which does not hang by a simple thread, but instead has firmly gripped the heartstrings of countless generations.
An eternal image created one uncomfortable kitten at a time...