Farewell Year For Jeanne Carley’s Ferret Calendar

The 20th anniversary issue of Jeanne Carley’s Ferret Calendar will be its last, so look back on calendar challenges, memories and more with photographer Jeanne Carley.

The debut of the 1995 Ferret Calendar by Jeanne Carley began a 20-year run of ferret calendars created by Carley, an award-winning photographer. Each calendar was unique and showcased ferrets as only Carley can.

“I can’t imagine working with any other pet the way I do with ferrets,” Carley states on her Ferret Company website. “They inspire me with their exuberance, curiosity and adorable dance of joy. They are my muse.”

Many ferret lovers eagerly await each year’s calendar, but on May 5, 2013, Carley posted a message on her Facebook page that rocked the ferret community. “It is with a very heavy heart that I’m writing to let you know that the 2014 20th Birthday edition of my ferret calendar will be my last edition. After 20 years, the time has come for me to take a break, and to find the time to explore the possibility of something I’ve been putting off due to lack of time — a permanent collection of my images in book form.”

She added that the 2014 calendar would be a limited edition.

The reaction was almost instant, with most comments expressing praise for the calendar, sorrow at its end and well wishes for the book.

A 20-year run is quite an accomplishment. Ferrets magazine asked Carley to reflect on some milestones, challenges, memories and more related to the calendar.

FM: Do you have any favorite calendar years?

Carley: I have several favorite images but in terms of favorite editions, the 2002 Ferrets at Work, 2005 Ferret Music, 2009 Movie Ferrets and 2012 Ferret Friends are a few that I really enjoyed and am most happy with.

FM: Which calendar was the most difficult to produce?

Carley: I think the 2009 Movie Ferrets was the most difficult conceptually because you had to think of an image that summed up a movie title but that was possible to do with one or two or three ferrets.

Lots of folks mentioned Gone With The Wind as a possible movie title to illustrate but I couldn’t see how to do that in a way that would work with ferrets. The Mummy, on the other hand, was a perfect example of what could work. I used Vet Wrap on a very zen little ferret and constructed the interior of an Egyptian tomb complete with sarcophagus and another mummy.

FM: Which calendar was the easiest?

Carley: I don’t think any were “easy,” but I was frankly amazed at how easy it was to photograph most other animals. The 2012 edition was called Ferret Friends and included dogs, cats, rats, rabbits and a pot-bellied pig to name a few. With the exception of the cats, the other animals were a snap!

FM: Your images have always been fantastic, but are there any you wish you could improve on, that you wish you could reshoot?

Carley: Interestingly there were times I’d get the film back from the lab and think I just didn’t get the shot I’d hoped for. In that case I did reshoot a few of the images while the set and lighting were still up. One of these was the businessman from the 2002 Ferrets At Work. I love that shot and was really glad to redo it. Other times I was floored with the perfect shot like the little Tazzy the flyfishing guide in that same edition. He cupped the reel in his hand and put a finger on the line, like I sometimes do when I fish! Amazing.

FM: The calendar evolved quite a bit over the years, Please comment on why the following five changes were milestones for the Jeanne Carley Ferret Calendar. Milestone #1, the Ferret Facts and Ferret Fictions section introduced in the 1997 edition.

Carley: I wanted to do my best to educate ferret owners, and potential owners, about the special needs of ferrets and to dispel the misinformation that our [California] wildlife agency was promoting at that time (and continues to promote).

Ferrets had recently been legalized in several of the few states that banned them, and I felt the calendar with national distribution was a good way to reach people new to ferret ownership and let them know the facts about this delicate domesticated pet.

FM: Milestone #2, the change to a larger format with the 1999 edition.

Carley: This was at the request of my major client, Borders. My first few editions were not standard calendar sizes and were test runs in a way. I didn’t know if the product was viable or not. When I published my first edition in 1995, it was the only professional ferret calendar on the market so it was kind of a groundbreaker but soon became quite popular.

FM: Milestone #3, the theme editions that began with the 1999 edition.

Carley: I was getting a bit bored shooting New Year’s or winter images for January, Valentine shots for February etc., so I moved on to ideas that had been brewing for a while. That gave me a lot more creative freedom, and I’ve had much more fun over the years with the options this change gave me.

The theme of the 1999 edition was Ferrets Around the World, and ferret clubs and shelters from several countries sent small, ferret-sized props for many of the images. Ferrets at Play was the theme in 2000, Famous Ferrets in 2001, Ferrets At Work in 2002, Ferret Impersonators in 2003, Ferret Feelings in 2004, and Ferret Music in 2005.

FM: Milestone #4, the introduction of a cover title and also change of name to Jeanne Carley’s Ferret Calendar in the 2006 edition.

Carley: The 2006 edition saw two major changes. The biggest change was overcoming my fear of having my name attached to my work. Over the years it hasn’t been easy photographing an illegal pet and worrying about the authorities knocking on your door during a photo shoot. Years earlier I was contacted by a producer for Animal Planet interested in filming a story on “the ferret photographer.” I couldn’t comfortably agree to that much publicity, so it didn’t happen unfortunately. But with the introduction of a couple of ferret calendars that had titles similar to mine, but whose photography was very different, it was time to distinguish my calendar so folks ordering it could be sure to get the one they wanted. The Ferret Calendar finally became Jeanne Carley’s Ferret Calendar beginning in 2006 with Ferret Babies.

FM: Milestone #5, the move away from an introduction page and the addition of a free poster, both introduced in the 2007 edition.

Carley: A photographer friend of mine shooting car calendars introduced a centerfold poster in his calendar. I really liked it and thought ferret lovers might enjoy something similar. But to do that I needed the introduction pages for the poster. I think it’s been a success and has led to some of my absolute favorite images, including little sable Easter egg babies in my first poster, and the little duo in the red race car from the 2010 Ferret Hotties calendar. That image beat over 6,000 other entries to win Photo District News’ national competition for The People’s Choice Award.

FM: How long does it take you to create a calendar, from concept to arriving at stores?

Carley: I would spend the entire year working on one or more editions. First you have to have the theme, then 12 or 13 ideas for the 12 months and the poster if that is different, which it is in most cases.

Next come the props. If the ferret is going to wear or hold something, the item must be ferret-sized. So, for example, when I needed a tiny harp for one of my images, I spent literally months looking on the Internet, eBay, etc. until I finally found the perfect size harp. Unfortunately it was sterling silver so though it is only about an inch high it was pretty expensive.

I also don’t just use any ferret for these images. I try to photograph as many colors as I possibly can but the color of the ferret is also important to the concept. For the month I call Gabrielle’s harp, I was photographing against a blue sky background and clouds, and I needed an albino or BEW ferret — preferably one that was very white. For my “box of chocolates” image in Flower Ferrets, I wanted some “milk” chocolate ferrets and some “dark” (sable) chocolate ferrets to go with the chocolates already in the box. For the Go Badgers shot, which I think was in 2007 Ferret Fun, obviously I needed badgers!

Then, when the props are located, backgrounds selected or constructed, the shoot is scheduled, generally on a weekend so owners can be present. Since I work with film, I would usually shoot a minimum of eight rolls — of 120mm film, 12 shots per roll — and more often a dozen rolls per ferret. So if there were two ferrets in a shot and they were photographed separately, that would be 20 to 24 rolls of film or 240 to 288 images to go through later.

Then when the images are selected they are digitally scanned at high resolution by a professional color house and proofs are made. I judge the proofs against the original film and ask them to make corrections to contrast and/or color to best match the original film. Sometimes there are three or four rounds of proofs made until I am satisfied with the results.

When the proofs are correct, the digital files would then be Photoshopped to create the final image and often proofed again. Sometimes there was minimal Photoshop, sometimes quite a bit if a change of scale was necessary — as in the shot of the red race car duo — or if the ferrets were photographed separately — such as the four little skateboarders on the cover of the 2000 Ferrets At Play.

Next the final images are sequenced to make the calendar month’s “flow.” I like to vary the color of the ferret and overall image so that a blueish image doesn’t necessarily follow another blue image, or two sables don’t appear one after the other. Having shot for design agencies for 10 years before the calendar, I learned that the devil is in the details!

FM: When will your 2014 calendar be available, and where can people get it?

Carley: It will be available from most of the same sources as previous years: The Ferret Depot, The Ferret Store, Calendars.com, Amazon.com and many ferret clubs and shelters. But it will be a very limited edition, so I do urge folks to not wait until December to get one!

FM: Do you have any estimate on when people can look for your new book — 2014, 2015?

Carley: I think 2015 would be more realistic. A book is a big undertaking and, like my calendar, I want it to be special. Ferret lovers don’t have any coffee table books on their pet of choice and they deserve one.

FM: Will you continue to offer the coasters, gift cards and custom prints of your images at your website, FerretCompany.com?

Carley: I will still be offering the coasters and custom prints, and in October or November a very small number of collector’s sets of all of my calendars, including the mini produced in 2004 and the last edition, 2014. It’s truly the end of an era, and I do have a message for fans in the 2014 edition, but they will have to wait to see it.

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