Late last year on social media I saw the most extraordinary image: three very different women holding three very different foxes, all in hues of white, red, and black. The women wear long dresses in each color, and a beautiful shuffling has taken place, so that the black-haired woman holds a white fox and wears a burnt orange dress, and so on. I was stunned. I shared the image on our social media accounts, where it immediately went even more viral than it was already, and looked up the photographer. It was the first I’d heard of Anastasiya Dobrovolskaya, and I was thrilled when she agreed to a feature and interview in Enchanted Living. And for a Magical Beasts issue? We couldn’t resist putting that extraordinary image on the cover.
Of course Dobrovolskaya is Russian. There is obviously something in the water there, not to mention a wondrous professional model-actor named Stepan, whom you can see charming a model (and all of us!), on page 18. Like most of the enchanted beasts in these photos, Stepan is a rescue; he was saved from a small zoo when he was a cub and has been living with humans ever since. Now he’s a dignified twenty-seven.
Dobrovolskaya’s first shoot with Stepan took place in January, and she says, “it was a wonderful experience thanks to which we made amazing photos.” She describes Stepan as “the cutest bear in the world: very loving and delicate,” and says that his story “is an example of an endless love between people and an animal. When I saw him for the first time I could not hold back the tears because I saw such a huge love between this animal and his people. I wish that all people treated their pets like Stepan’s family have been treating him.”
Dobrovolskaya has always loved and cared for animals. “As a child I brought home puppies and kittens that had been thrown out,” she said. “Onсе, I brought a baby raven whose wing was broken. Nothing has changed. I still love animals with all my heart and am always trying to help those in trouble.” She first incorporated animals in her photography by chance in 2018. She’d been taking portraits for a few months when she received a message from a woman who organizes photo shoots in Moscow, offering Dobrovolskaya the opportunity to participate in a shoot with a chicken and a mini pig. How could she resist?
She found a model, plucked a dress from her own closet, and went—but didn’t know what to do. “Should the chicken be on the floor? Or should I put him on the fence? The pig suddenly fell asleep—was it okay to wake her up? The only thing I knew was that I wanted those photos to look like fashion ones.” So she told her model Margo, “Imagine that we’re making content for Vogue.” The photos turned out smashingly and even went on to be recognized in the huge international photo contest 35 AWARDS 2018.
As it turned out, the couple who owned the chicken and the mini pig took care of other animals too, including a baby fox cub and an owl. Dobrovolskaya asked if it were possible to take photos with them as well, though she was “very worried that it was stressful for the animals.” The owners assured her it was okay, and to Dobrovolskaya’s surprise, “both the fox and owl were very happy to have an additional walk in a park and didn’t even notice thе paparazzi.”
It was after that photo shoot that she realized she’d found her niche and became acquainted with other animal owners, including a young woman who rescued foxes from fur farms. “I fell in love with these fluffy guys,” she says. “In a year I formed a proven and very narrow circle of animal owners. These are people who really love animals and spend all their time working with them. I absolutely trust these people and don’t collaborate with anyone else unless I get their approval.”
In the course of her work, the animal that most surprised her was an albino porcupine. “I had never seen porcupines before and knew nothing about them, so I was really surprised by how extraordinary they are. It looked like an animal that lives deep in the ocean but spoke like a very grouchy chicken.” Her biggest challenge has been dealing with the occasional animal diva. “Sometimes an animal may be in bad mood and simply not want to participate in a photo shoot,” she says. “And you can’t do anything about it. The only way out is to reschedule. The good news is that it happens very rarely because tasty food is a good compromise!”
When asked for additional stories about working with animals, Dobrovolskaya offers useful tips. “Dogs have very good sense of smell. If you’re planning a photo shoot with a dog in a photo studio, always ask if there was a photo shoot with a cat before. If you don’t ask and a cat was there before you, most likely your photo shoot will be ruined.” Ravens, she explains, are fashionistas. “They like everything sparkling. So you better not to wear bright earrings to a photo shoot with them or be ready to go home without them.” And wolves are yellowbellies. “They have neophobia, which means they are afraid of everything new.”
Finally I ask her about the ladies with the foxes in our cover photo. How did such an extraordinary image come to be? “At first,” she explains, “I decided to take a photo of a blonde girl with a white fox standing near a brunette girl with a black fox. I realized that it would be too boring and decided to mix the foxes. But it was still not very interesting, so I decided to add a third girl with red hair. The next idea was to mix the dresses. It took several minutes to reach the final idea.” After coming up with the idea, she found the models and the dresses. The actual photo shoot lasted less than fifteen minutes.
“In my work,” she says, “I want to show the beauty of animals and their similarity to people. We kill animals for fur, we cut down forests, we eat a lot of meat, we pollute the air and the ocean. With my photos I’m trying to show that both domestic animals and wild animals can trust and love people. What’s more, I usually try to shoot people with similar animals: a girl with vitiligo with a spotted fox, a girl with albinism with an albino porcupine, and so on. I try to find common features between people and animals so that animals become more respected by people and people will do their best to minimize the harm they do to nature.”
See more of Dobrovolskaya’s work on Instagram @anastasiya_dobrovolskaya.