Lonya Plotkin and Diane Bondareff, two celebrated artists and photographers, met while walking their dogs in Riverside Park on the west side of Manhattan. While spending time together, they quickly discovered their mutual passion for photography. And Lonya's well-disciplined border collie, Ace, and Diane’s ball-loving rescue, Gracie, hit it off as well.
Plotkin (lonya.com) returned to the Upper West Side in 2019 from The Netherlands where he spent 20 years perfecting his art (he lived on West 73rd Street in the late 1990’s). He graduated cum laude from the prestigious Fotoacademie in Amsterdam in 2003, and his work can be found in magazines, galleries and private collections throughout Europe and the Middle East. His work is influenced by the Russian avant-garde (he grew up in post WWII Soviet Union) and by artistic legends Helmut Newton, Richard Avedon and David Hockney.
Bondareff (dianebondareff.com), a New York resident for over 25 years, is a veteran news and event photographer whose work has been featured on the cover of the New York Times and in media outlets such as CNN, Newsday, LA Times, Toronto Star, Time Magazine, Vogue, ET Online, People, and many others. Bondareff is called upon by some of New York City's most prestigious non-profits and successful businesses to photograph their events and red carpets. She is a graduate of Barnard College.
On their daily walks in Riverside Park, Upper West Siders Plotkin and Bondareff, started taking pictures of their own beloved dogs and soon neighbors and friends asked them to take photos of their dogs as well. And so ParkBench Photography - parkbenchphotography.com - came to be.
What makes a good dog portrait?
There are technical and artistic aspects of any portrait - be it canine or human! Light, shadows, composition, facial expression, poses and postures all play a part. Lonya’s previous work, in which he created elaborately staged and stylized images, is complemented by Diane’s expertise as an event photographer. The dog portraits we have created together are the result of a combination of our two approaches. First, we design the concept of the photograph and then we aim (our cameras) to capture the diverse personalities of our subjects.
How do you get the dogs to cooperate?
Both of us are major dog lovers and dog owners. Spending so much time with our animals has made us very attuned to canine communication. We give the dogs a few minutes to get comfortable in the space, especially if they are in new surroundings. Some dogs respond well to voice commands, but sometimes, we just resort to bribery with treats and the use of squeaky toys. One of us will “entertain” the dog while the other is looking for the right shot. Sometimes the best picture comes when the dog is just doing its own thing.
How are you handling the business in the pandemic?
We offer to pick up people’s dogs and return them home after the photoshoot. Or if people prefer to be present we all wear masks and stay six feet apart from each other with cross ventilation. We also offer outside photo sessions or we can travel to the client’s home.
What is the difference between shooting portraits of dogs and portraits of people and can you do a combination?
It is a lot more difficult to shoot dogs simply because they are not as well trained as humans are. We don't discriminate, though, and we will shoot people, animals and people with animals.