Goodbye #Vanlife: A Travelling Dog Photographer Bids Adieu to Life on the Road

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Goodbye #Vanlife: A Travelling Dog Photographer Bids Adieu to Life on the Road
Dog photographer Amanda Jones packs in her mobile dog photography studio after an incredible 25 years of art and adventure

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For renowned American dog photographer Amanda Jones, “the end of a 25-year shooting streak is on the horizon.”

She’s made the decision to do just 300 more sessions (there are currently 245 left) before ending them altogether, packing up the mobile dog photography studio she’s spent half of every month living out of for the past two-plus years.

The daughter of two professional photographers, the Greenwich, CT native grew up “in a home filled with art” and “on a steady diet of Annie Leibovitz and Mark Seliger portraits.” She wanted to be a portrait photographer from the time she was young, taking photos at age ten with the family tabby cat, Oscar the Grouch, standing in as a model.

After studying film and photography at Ithaca College, she began shooting family portraits, weddings, and corporate functions, but had an epiphany: “I realized, ‘I want to photograph dogs,’” Jones says. The ah-ha moment was sparked by photographing her friend’s yellow Lab puppy for fun. As soon as she saw the reaction of the pup’s owner, a light bulb went on. She started a mailing list—the Amanda Jones’ Dog of the Month Club—and with dog culture on the rise, she tapped into a market hungry for dog portraits.

She found her work on display in San Francisco and New York, and developed a canine clientele, filling her calendar with photoshoots and scheduling appointments months in advance. She spent the next two decades travelling ten days out of every month, but about three years ago, the mother of one had enough of spending her days in airports and hotels. The solution: Jones, along with Chris, her business partner and husband of 29 years, purchased a 21-by-9-foot camper van, which the couple and their three dogs —Dachshunds Benny, 13, and Fig, one, along with Chiweenie LadyBug, age six—take on the road for up to two weeks at a time. Covering up to 900 miles in one trip, Jones shoots 14 to 20 pre-booked sessions. The RV they’ve dubbed “The Dog Studio” houses them and all their gear.

It proved a fortuitous set up in ways they couldn’t have anticipated. When COVID-19 struck in early 2020, most studio photographers had to put sessions on hold. While she went six months without a booking, the RV “allowed us to shoot safely” once things opened up a bit, says Jones. “We didn’t have to use public restrooms and we could get takeout and be self-contained. Instead of renting a studio, we could go to [clients’] homes and shoot in the garage. It happened to work out perfectly… The van has been truly transformative for work and life.”

For the most part, the effect of the pandemic on her business left Jones unfazed. As a luxury business owner, Jones is aware that things can change along with the ups and downs of the economy. At one point, Jones had a 2,000-square-foot studio and several employees. “When the economy retracted, so too did our business,”
she says.

The mother of one had enough of spending her days in airports and hotels. The solution? A 21-foot camper van.

The ups have included being featured on countless national news outlets, including the New York Times and National Geographic, and becoming a dog expert and “loving every minute of it.” Jones has also published six books of dog photography—Greyhounds Big and Small, Frenchie Kisses, Dachshunds Short and Long, A Breed Apart, Dog Years: Faithful Friends, Then and Now, and Unleashed.

After more than two decades shooting, the appeal of her métier has not diminished. “As subjects, dogs are as diverse as they are interesting visually,” says Jones. “Fluffy coats to smooth coats to wiry coats. The colour differences amaze me. Long tails, short tails. Tall ears, floppy ears.” Each dog, she says, whether they are national champions in their breed category or rescues, has something unique worth capturing. She’s enjoyed working with pet parents, too, including numerous celebrities and their canine companions. She’s photographed Anderson Cooper and his Welsh Springer spaniel Molly; Mary Tyler Moore and her rescue dogs at her farm outside of New York City; and author Danielle Steele and her Dachshund and Chihuahua in a ballroom in the author’s San Francisco mansion, “but it’s always about the dogs, not the people,” she says. All told, the moments that touch her the most are when she receives calls from past clients who have recently lost a pet. “They’re so incredibly thankful,” she says, to have a lasting memory.

“I’ve had people tell me I have the best job in the world, and I agree, absolutely.”

“I’ve had people tell me I have the best job in the world, and I agree, absolutely,” says Jones. But all good things must come to an end. After a near 25-year shooting streak with more than 2,700 unique clients, Jones, now 54, recently announced that she will be doing her final 300 photo sessions—which she estimates will take her about three years —before closing out the travelling dog photographer portion of her life. She will be focusing on using her dog imagery (“We have amassed an enormous database of fine art photography,” she says) in a different way.

She says she will miss meeting new people and their dogs, but not life on the road. While the couple will keep the RV as a mode of travel between their homes in Williamstown, MA and Tucson, AZ, Jones plans to devote her newfound time to “continue to photograph the things I love—my friends and the two amazing locations that we live in,” she says. And, of course, dogs. Like most canine owners, her life has been forever changed by them. “Dogs are now a central part of my life,” says Jones. “I love all breeds, sizes and shapes… I can usually produce a dog treat from any article of clothing that’s hanging in my coat closet.”

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