© Ellen van Deelen
A series she did on rats with musical instruments are among the favorite rat photos of photographer Ellen van Deelen.
Rats pushing strollers, rats holding teddy bears and rats playing musical instruments — these are some of the adorable images captured by Dutch photographer Ellen van Deelen in her book The Rat Pack. But those photos are only a small sample of the many precious rat moments van Deelen has captured. More than 100 rat photos add to her RedBubble page, and those images are the result of numerous photo shoots over many years.
© Ellen van Deelen
The photo book The Rat Pack is available in softcover or hardcover.
Ironically, van Deelen wasn’t even a fan of rats until eight or nine years ago.
“I never liked rats,” van Deelen said. “One day I bought a rat who was alone in a cage at the pet shop. No one wanted to buy him because of his color. I started to read a book about rats, and decided to buy him. I bought him a friend sometime later, because they cannot live alone. Then I found out the sweet character they have and how smart they are!”
Van Deelen was hooked and became a rat fan. She had dabbled in photography and other creative hobbies since she was a child. When she got her first digital SLR camera, her photographic hobby grew — and her pet rats were a natural subject. After her first two rats, she adopted two dumbo rats. “They looked so cute, I took more and more photos!”
She believes you get the best photos when you photograph what you like. Currently, van Deelen has two female rats, Poppy and Saffie.
Getting a shot can be inspired a couple of ways. “Sometimes I have an idea, like the photo with Rosie who is ‘knitting.’ Other times I see something that gives me an idea for a photo,” van Deelen said. “Last week I bought a golf set, exactly in the right size, so I am going to take photos with that. The photos with the music instruments started with a little guitar I saw in a shop.”
© Ellen van Deelen
This photo of Rosie the rat “knitting” was an idea van Deelen made into a reality.
Props are important for many of the shots, and van Deelen always keeps an eye out for perfectly sized props. She has found them in music stores, stores that sell miniature dollhouse furniture and special events.
Although van Deelen believes rats are naturally curious and like to explore new objects like the props, getting her rats to interact exactly as she hopes can take a bit of work.
“I use vanilla pudding to get their attention, and I use a few other tricks which I normally never tell to anyone,” she said. She added that the rats definitely learn tasks, such as “drinking” from a cup. “After several times, they get better and better at it.” She said she just has to be patient.
Photo shoots usually last for about an hour and a half and she takes about 300 photos. She expects one photo she really likes from every shoot. She has never yet gotten the image she wants on the first shot.
Van Deelen has also photographed other live subjects, including ladybugs and cats. “For me, rats are more difficult to photograph,” she said. Part of the reason is because the photos must be taken quickly, because the rats rarely sit or stand still.
But photo shoots can be an adventure, too. “It’s just funny to see how they interact with the props,” she said. “Sometimes they do something I didn’t expect at all.”
This brings up the story of Snoesje and the fishbowl. Van Deelen put a small fish in a bowl and placed her rat Snoesje beside it with the hope of catching the rat looking at the fishbowl. Snoesje had her own ideas. “She suddenly climbed on the fishbowl and tried to go in the water near the fish! I had to stop taking photos immediately,” van Deelen said. “I would not recommend anyone do this.” The fish survived unharmed.
© Ellen van Deelen
The rat in this shot was supposed to look at the fish, not try to touch it.
During another shoot, she posed her rat Rosie holding an expensive miniature teddy bear. “After the photo shoot, I found that she had bitten out a piece of his head!” van Deelen said. “So, I learned to be more careful, and never leave them alone with the props, because it can be dangerous for them.”
For people interested in taking photos of their own rats, van Deelen said the key is to be patient. “Take the photos in your own way,” she said. “I also take rat photos without any props. I like to take photos when they are resting or eating, too.” She also warned that if you use props, never leave your rats alone with them in case your rat starts to nibble or eat them.
©Ellen van Deelen
If you photograph your rats with props, always supervise to be sure your pet is not eating part of the prop.
After so many years of photographing rats, van Deelen said her favorite photo is The Quintet, which is a collage a friend made from five of her rat with music instruments photos. “I like my rat photos with the music instruments the most I think,” van Deelen said. “I also like the ‘party’ photos.”
Van Deelen said she is not consciously trying to fight any negative stereotypes about rats. “I just love to take their photos. I understand people who don’t like rats, because I also didn’t really like them, but I have changed. I now see their character, and not how they look, although I like how they look now, too! My rats have such a sweet character; it’s hard not to like them. If my photos change people’s minds, that would be good.”
Her book, The Rat Pack, came out a few years ago. Is it possible a second rat book might follow? “Maybe,” van Deelen said. “I am thinking about it.”