It was a cat named Snow White that got Wu Hongli started. It was a cold night in Shanghai in 2012 and Wu, who began taking photos when he was 19, came across the cat at the backdoor of his workplace.
She was trusting enough to allow him to pick her up, and soon she was enjoying his loving attention, lapping up food and water within the warm confines of a handmade shelter. But Snow White, as Wu named her, would have a surprise for her new guardian. Over the next several days she was joined by one kitten and then another and then another, until Wu finally realized the full extent of his new family responsibilities: Just before they met, Snow White had become the proud mother of five.
"She obviously felt safe with me and my workmates, and that prompted her to bring all of her kittens together," says Wu, who, naturally, like any proud new parent, was soon snapping photos of Snow White and her offspring.
Both smitten and inspired, Wu was soon prowling the streets, alleys, parks and nooks and crannies of Shanghai in search of cats－not necessarily looking for more mouths to feed, but at least to capture the cats on film.
With that passion, Wu would eventually turn tail on one profession, visual designer, and take up another, cat photographer, one who now has more than 3 million followers on the social media platform Sina Weibo. Over the past six years he has taken more than 70,000 photos of cats on the streets of more than 20 cities across China.
On New Year's Day he published a collection of photos that captures cats jumping high from high roofs. The photographer named the series as "jumping from 2019 to 2020", marking the change of year, and soon Wu had been flooded by messages of good will from his admirers.
This month he published a book, Cats of the Four Seasons, in which he gives full play to 39 cat photos he has taken over the years. Of course anyone who owns or loves cats has their own stories to tell, and Wu's book leaves enough space between the photos that allows them to do exactly that.
The book itself is the offspring of an earlier Wu product, a 2020 calendar containing 400 of his photos he published late last year. It was obviously a very productive year for Wu, for earlier he published a book titled Cats in Beijing, with about 100 photos he has taken in the capital over the years, including at well known sites such as the Forbidden City and in the hutong (narrow alleys) areas of the capital.
One of Wu's admirers, under the name Coco on his Sina Weibo account, said: "I'm fascinated with his photos, which capture the 'personalities' of cats. There are many photos of cute animals on the internet, but the cats he picture are better because they look different and real."
Many of those commenting on Wu's photos go so far as to say the pictures have "cured' them and helped them fight loneliness and ward off the stresses of life.
ne thing that sets Wu's photos apart from many of the feline genre is that while the center of attention is as obvious as a fashion model strutting down a catwalk, just as much attention is given to the surroundings, such as local architecture, food, people or lifestyle.
One of Wu's most celebrated photos was taken in November 2017 in Nanjing, Jiangsu province. One thing that all of his cat-hunting expeditions have in common is that they involve a lot of walking and scouting, as Wu searches out photo subjects, be they willing or unwilling.
That November he spent a considerable time accompanied by friendly daytime light walking on and along one of the city's most popular tourist sites, Nanjing City Wall, built during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). However, it was not until about sunset that Wu finally got his break. Not far away he glimpsed the heads of three little white cats and an orange tabby cat protruding from a recess in the wall. Wu squatted, steadied himself and managed to picture the cats, just above eye level, as they basked in the glow of the setting sun.
After he published the photo online he received dozens of messages and soon built up a fan base, giving him the confidence to become a full-time cat photographer, in October 2017.