By Ben McClelland
For a couple of years now Katie Behnke has been photographing Wildrose Dogs and is currently assisting Wildrose with social media and facebook upgrades. Recently this Anchorage, Alaska, native was selected as a Purina photographer. Folks who have attended recent handler workshops and Double Gun have seen her in action. Here’s a chance to get to know her better, through her own words, as she answers some questions about herself and her work.
At the end of the interview view the photo gallery for a small sampling of Katie’s work. For a fuller look go to her website: klbehnkephotography.com. You’ll find the range of her work spans landscapes, ballerinas, portraits, and more.
WR: Katie, tell us about your educational background you’re your family.
I have a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Alaska Anchorage, 2012. My parents are William and Sandra Behnke, and I have an older brother Jason Simpson (married to Rebecca Simpson, daughter Laura) and a younger brother Richard Behnke. Both parents and brothers have been very supportive of the photography career, especially Jason. For Christmas every year, Jason carefully researches some interesting photography tool, which I end up getting. Sometimes they are kickstarters, other times an item to help with a glitch I had that year (like a mirroring hard drive, after a hard drive crashed and took a lot of work with it).
WR: I know that the Behnke household includes a number of Wildrose dogs. Tell us about them.
All the dogs are my father’s dogs, starting with Glenshee Ghillie of Craigenros (age 14). After Ghillie, is Wildrose Opus One (Ghillie’s nephew, Kane x Tammy, age 6), and the most recent addition, Wildrose Black Ice (Opus’ nephew, Deke x Midge, age 2). Of the three, Ghillie is my buddy. After he was retired from hunting, he bonded pretty well with me and we shared our own adventures hiking and walking. We even enjoy just rolling in the grass together. A picture of Ghillie was one of the first major awards I had received in a photography competition. Ghillie was relaxing on his place, and we set up a Dokken nose to nose with him. He has a very relaxed personality and didn’t move. We entered the photo into the Fur Rondy photo competition, where it won first place in the “pets category.” That picture remains one of my favorites of him.
Bill got Ghillie in Spring of 2006, and he really changed our perspective on dogs. We had a golden retriever at the time, Kiska, and she was a wonderful family dog, but nowhere near Ghillie’s level of discipline. Bill and Sandy regularly attended the Handler’s Seminar, and Bill was taking Ghillie with him everywhere, on business trips and hunting events. Ghillie became the Wildrose ambassador to Alaska. Bill loved Ghillie so much, he had to get another dog, but instead of an import, he wanted a puppy. Wildrose Opus One was ready for the Alaskan life just as Ghillie was being phased into retirement. As Bill contemplated dog number three, he and Sandy were spending most of the winters in Oxford, where they bought a house just before Wildrose Black Ice was born. When I visit Oxford, I have a standing reservation over at Lanette Drewrey’s place.
WR: Tell us some things that you like: hobbies, types of food, music, movies, books, computer games, dancing, whatever.
Visiting Mississippi at least twice a year, I am growing rather fond of southern food, especially shrimp and grits. That is just something you can’t get in Alaska—good shrimp and grits. We do have the best fish! Nothing beats fresh halibut or salmon!
I like to believe I have a pretty general Alaskan lifestyle, hiking and fishing in the summer. My best friend is an avid fisherman and I frequently tag along with him for more remote flyfishing adventures. Sorry, can’t tell you just where they are, but if you are in Alaska, you can come with us! During the winter, I do more reading and watch movies. Like my taste in music, my taste in books is eclectic. I read a lot of what people suggest. Lately, I have been reading books by Ross King about specific artists in history (Leonardo and the Last Supper). I have a variety of books on photography techniques, but that can only be expected.
WR: Tell us about how you began with photography.
I really started my interest in photography in college. I took a couple of photography classes, but wasn’t sure about the passion for it. After a conversation with my father, we had agreed that I should have a real adventure/experience in photography to see if it would be a good path for me. He found a photography safari company, the Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, and together we picked out a tour. In April 2006, I went to Chili and Argentina, and along with about 10 other guests, learned photography techniques from professional photographers John Shaw and Alejandro Ronchetti. Shaw is a fairly big name in the field of nature photography, and I learned a ton. I came home and apologized to my parents, because at that time, I decided I wanted to be a photographer—an expensive and passionate lifestyle.
Just about every vacation I had after that became about developing photography skills. Practicing landscape techniques and experiencing the United States. Bless my friends who have the patience to travel with me! I traveled to Germany and Ireland last year, and Veldee Hall, my travel partner helped me a lot. One of my favorite pictures from that trip was of the Heidelberg Bridge in Germany. It was late in the evening and I had set up my camera next to a river, and was grabbing thorn bushes to keep them from getting into my frame. She was ready to pull me out of the river if I fell in and directed people around me.
In Anchorage, I work with a couple local theatre groups and photograph their performances. One group is a comedy improv group called Scared Scriptless. They perform short form improv, like watching Who’s Line Is It Anyway? live. I have photographed some of their guest performers too, who use the photos for their own promotions. One team from Juneau, Alaska, uses my photos for their trading card photos!
I work for the University of Alaska Anchorage as a Social Media and Special Events Coordinator for the Social Sciences, including Anthropology, Geography and Environmental Studies, Psychology, Sociology, Journalism and Communications, Political Science, Liberal Studies, International Studies, and Women’s Studies. I update their Facebook pages, maintain their websites, and assist in the organization of any special events, like guest lectures on UAA campus. The position is relatively new, and I was one of the first in the position, meaning I got to help define the position. My supervisors didn’t know how much my photography skills would become a desired asset in the College!
WR: So, Katie, how did you begin working as a photographer for Wildrose Kennels and their clients? What brought you to Wildrose?
Mike. Mike called me in February of 2013, and asked if I would be interested in attending the March Beginner and Advanced Handlers Seminar as the photographer. I warned him I didn’t have much experience at photographing dogs, and he assured me that he was happy to work with me and develop my skills. Talk about an experience that changes one’s life! Mike is very knowledgeable about what makes good canine photos and we work well together. After the first seminar, Mike already had plans for me to show up at that fall’s Double Gun.
I think clients enjoy it the most when I bring out my chest waders and sit in the swamps and ponds. It becomes an unspoken game between the trainers and me. Who can throw the dokkens close enough to the photographer and get her splashed? Many trainers have succeeded. Some of them even hit me with the dokken. Clients love their dogs in the water, big splashes. The dogs really show their energy and grace in the water.
WR: What are some of your impressions of the Oxford area, the change of cultures for you?
Alaska is the stuff of legends, so when I answer “where you from?” I get a mass of questions after that! Anchorage is the largest city in Alaska, but it is slightly larger than Oxford. I love the people in Oxford. They are very friendly and inviting. I spend most of my time in Oxford at the kennels or working on my computer, but when I do get out, I love going to the Square and sharing drinks with friends! Even walking around the Ole Miss campus is fun! I have not been in Mississippi during a hometown game, so that is on my list of things I would like to experience. That is one of the big differences between Alaska and Mississippi. In Alaska, we don’t have any big local sports teams; the most active is our hockey team, the Alaska Aces. Most people aren’t big into football. But when I am down for the Double Gun, everybody is close to a radio or on their phones to keep up with the scores of the football game! It seems so strange to me!
Another major difference between Anchorage and Oxford: Coffee shops! In Anchorage, it is difficult to go a couple blocks without passing a coffee stand (and no, I don’t mean Starbucks; we have all sorts of coffee stands everywhere). In Oxford, unless I am making a cup of coffee at Lanette’s home, I am most likely not going to get any. Makes me think Alaskans might have a coffee bean dependency issue.
WR: Explain your job duties during your gigs at WR and how you work with clients.
Talk about the best gig on Earth! I try to show up in Oxford a couple days before the event, and Mike will have a list of the type of photos he needs. New dam pictures or he has a new stud that needs photos. We try to get those taken care of before the clients show up. Once seminars start, I try to figure out which station has the most dynamic setting/action that clients would want of their dogs. Since many of our dogs are hunting companions, I try for water settings or blinds. At the end of the seminars, I sit down with clients who are interested in photos and they pick out what they like. I do a few quick edits (usually cropping and straightening the photo) and burn them to a disk for the client. I also tell clients that if I submit the photo to a magazine or other source, I will let them know. We love bragging rights about dogs being magazine models! I always try to squeeze in some one-on-one photoshoots with dogs when clients want them. I am in Oxford for only a week or so at a time, and usually am pretty full working at the kennels.
WR: What do you like most about or find interesting about the work, the place, the people and their dogs, whatever?
I have made good friends with the trainers and many of the clients and enjoy seeing them every year. I am always fascinated at the level of skills the dogs have developed and love watching them perform. My first Double Gun experience left me in awe of the Wildrose training methods and labs. The trainers show a great level of passion and care for the dogs (even the hard headed dogs), and it is that dedication that creates the quality program we know from Wildrose. When I am at the kennels in the spring, my mother brings Ghillie to the kennels, and it is great watching many of the trainers show him attention, and tell stories of adventures they had with Ghillie. There is such a positive community built, you can’t help but get carried away with them.
There are some dogs I love watching just a little more than others. I warn Mike not to turn his back on Barney and me. I would run away with that dog. I have a soft spot for Murphy, too. He usually gives me some very good pictures. Indian cracks me up! He has been through many routines that they are boring, but he watches Mike closely. I always feel like I am photographing more personality in Indian, rather than some of his skills.
WR: What goals do you have for yourself in the short term (in a year) and in the long term (in five years)?
Short term, I am working on developing videography skills. I am setting aside some of the money I am earning from my photography for future traveling expenses, and the rest I would like to put towards a GoPro and a quadcopter. I have some visions in my head of some footage of the Wildrose grounds, clients doing a walk up hunt and dogs quartering fields. Long term, I want to keep working with Wildrose and Mike and continue publishing photos of awesome dogs. I would love to spread out in the United States and visit clients in their hometowns for hunts and photoshoots.
WR: Tell us about Purina designating you as photographer.
Another large game changer! Cathy emailed me a couple months ago and asked if I had any additional photos of Deke, that Purina was looking for something for a promotional banner. I dug through my collection and sent them a couple of photos. I was delighted when they sent an email back saying they had selected a photo and to sign some paperwork. Few weeks later, they sent a digital copy of the banner. I was so excited, texting my family and friends. Then about a month ago, Purina contacted me again, requesting more work and asking if I would fill out some paperwork to be a vendor with them. They have selected another photo that will be in the next Ducks Unlimited publication. I will be collecting a shoot list (a list of desired style and types of photos) from them before I head over to Wildrose. They primarily want photos of Deke, but they are open to more good-looking dogs. Let’s face it, Wildrose is where you find some good looking dogs.