WITH a superpower for finding cats on streets, street cat photographer Wu Hongli is dubbed “walking catnip” by Chinese netizens.
“But it’s more because I spend so many hours walking and finding the street cats. If you walk 30,000 steps a day, you’d find them too,” said Wu, who’s now based in Shanghai as a freelance photographer.
Every day, Wu publishes intriguing photos of cats on his Weibo, WeChat and Lofter accounts under the name “staymiao” (@喵呜不停) and shares the little stories behind the shots. He now has over 130,000 followers on Weibo.
He not only has the keen eyes of discovering the street cats hidden deep in the narrow lanes, but knows a lot of the cats individually, like the two Chinese Li Hua cats, or the Dragon Li, and the tuxedo brothers on Maoming Road N.
On April 18, Wu snapped a rare shot of two cats jumping from one building to another side by side in synchronized movement for the first time ever. The photo, deemed by the netizens as a sign of luck, has been re-blogged over 20,000 times.
He’s also known for a photo series of kittens growing up inside the ancient city walls in Nanjing. Over the years, Wu has taken over 20,000 photos of street cats, mostly in Shanghai and nearby cities.
Hobby to career
Originally from Anji, the county known for its bamboo forest and the film “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” in Zhejiang Province, Wu graduated from Shanghai Jiao Tong University and worked 10 years as a visual designer and front-end engineer in Shanghai.
Wu, who was mainly doing humanity photography in his free time, started to take pictures of cats in October 2012 when he met a stray cat at his workplace.
“To my surprise, the stray didn’t run away. I gave her some food and the cat just settled down there,” he said.
“A week later she brought along two kittens, so we adopted the cats and that’s when I discovered the cuteness of cats.”
Wu and his colleagues were very fond of the cats and he started taking pictures.
“We had a great environment with a lot of fruit trees around our office building. It’s a safe place for cats to live because of the tight security,” he said. Since then, he has been fully devoted to snapping street cats.
He and his colleagues also took care of homeless cats in the area and at most had more than 10 cats.
Sometimes when Wu worked overtime, he would see the cats perching on the trees like owls.
Gradually, he went on to photograph cats on the street, which helped him relax and escape from his busy work life.
The new quest also brought Wu to a lot of places in Shanghai he hasn’t visited before.
“Sometimes I would dream of a beautiful place similar to one that I’ve visited before, and when I pick up the camera to press the shutter, I woke up,” he said.
Wu has one cat named Zhadan (Bomb) that’s now living in Anji with his family.
In 2017, Wu photographed four kittens living inside the city walls in Nanjing and it went viral on Weibo.
The cats weren’t trapped in the holes; it’s their lifestyle in the area and the holes were their home.
“There’s a kind man known as the ‘father of cats’ in Nanjing who’s been taking care of the cats in the area for seven or eight years. He said people shouldn’t bring the kittens down, they have to learn how to get off,” Wu said.
“The kittens all grew up in the holes.”
He went back there once in winter and discovered that there were actually two cat holes in the city wall.
When the kittens grew up, they would still come back to the holes every day.
Wu took photos of the street cats for five years as a hobby before he decided to take a break from work and focus on photography.
“I’ve been working for 10 years and I wanted to spend some time traveling around,” he said.
“I found taking photos of street cats is something I really love, and I want to make it into a career.”
Wu now spends more time on the streets and on the road, seeking out interesting cats and stories of cats and owners. He plans to go to the ancient villages in southern Anhui to photograph cats and the Hui-style residences known for their white walls and gray roof tiles.
“My goal is to photograph street cats around China,” Wu said.
His photos not only highlight the different faces and actions of street cats, but also the stories of the cats. The street cats he photographs include both the strays and those with homes but are not strictly indoor cats. Frequently, he enjoys talking with owners of the cats and sharing the interesting interactions between them and the cats.
“I think the most interesting part is not taking photos of the cats but the process of looking for the cats and seeking the interactions between them and people,” he said.
While photographing street cats is a priority, Wu also takes pictures of architecture, people and culture. He’s now working to sort and classify the street cat photos he accumulated over the past years.
Wu has also held photo exhibitions over the years and is preparing to publish a book of his street cat photography. Recently he collaborated with film screenings of “Kedi” in China, the 2016 documentary about Istanbul’s street cats and exhibited 20 of his representative street cat photos.
With a background in visual designing, Wu produces street cat photos of excelling quality. He has even created a special game of finding the well-hidden watermarks in every photo, making the copyright claim a lot more embellished and fun.