Mary Johnson and her cameras are never far apart. The award-winning photographer for the Branford Eagle can be found around town documenting events for our online newspaper and for posterity. Her photos are an integral part of how we present the news to our readers.
But her talents go beyond news photography. She’s also a talented portrait and landscape photographer, and she’s a fire buff, shooting for local fire departments.
More recently she has parlayed those talents into creating calendars to benefit the Branford Compassion Club’s (BCC) Feline Adoption Center. Johnson and the “stars” of her calendars will be at a special signing on Friday, Dec. 7, 6 to 7:30 p.m., at RJ Julia Booksellers, 768 Boston Post Rd. in Madison. The calendars are also available at Branford Book & Card on Main Street. Johnson displays the calendars here with Bob Esposito, owner of Branford Book & Card.
Johnson, who has had a camera in her hands since the age of 15, explains that it all started three years ago when her daughter, Samantha, was fostering a litter of kittens for the BCC. “Kittens are so cute,” she said. And, of course, a natural subject matter for a photographer.
Encouraged by Eunice Lasala, BCC founder and past president, and Krista Hanniford, BCC volunteer and fellow photographer, she produced a calendar of kittens for 2010. When Hanniford suggested firefighters and kittens, Mary jumped at the idea.
That resulted in a calendar with burley firefighters in full firefighter gear cuddling cute BCC kittens.
Johnson said she wasn’t going to produce a firefighters and kittens this year, but received a big push from Milford firefighter Lisa Oliver Kaplan.
Between Kaplan’s efforts and a request put out on Facebook, the response was overwhelming. Firefighters from Ansonia-Derby, Branford, Chester, East Haven, Guilford, Killingworth and Orange poured into her MJP studio to be photographed with BCC’s cute little kittens - 29 firefighters and more than 50 kittens!
While most of those kittens have been adopted out, there are always plenty kittens and cats available for adoption through the Branford Compassion Club.
This year’s calendars have four different themes: kittens only, male firefighters, female firefighters, and firefighters from the town of Orange, who came out in numbers enough to merit their own calendar. The cover of that calendar, part of an article in Orange Live, features George Geane, who posed with his penguin friend and kitty.
“It was so much fun to see these firefighters with the kittens running around,” Johnson says. You can hear the excitement in her voice as she talks about the experience.
So how did she get all those pussycats to pose perfectly?
Johnson captured their attention using a feather toy with a bell. She said the age of the kittens – 3 to 4 months – was critical as well. It’s before they’re aware of all the scary things in the big wide world.
She credits Hanniford, her kitty wrangler, with keeping the kittens in line. “She was awesome,” says Johnson. “I could not have done it without her.”
The three-month effort resulted the four calendars, which will be available at RJ Julia’s on Friday night. Johnson also produced a calendar on Branford sunsets, another favorite subject.
The calendars can also be purchased at Branford Compassion Club Feline Rescue and Adoption Center, 2037 Foxon Road, North Branford; Harbor Street Market, 312 Harbor St.; Motophoto, 2323 Dixwell Ave., Hamden; and through Johnson’s website.