Photographer Zak Krevitt takes us into the ‘puppy headspace’ of a welcoming community that uses animalistic behaviour to escape the daily grind
What was once quite closed and guarded, the fetish community has been increasingly put under a public microscope in the past few years, through programmes on free to air TV, more subversive documentary filmmakers and photographers or on this very website. Whether it’s due to a growing acceptance for what is typically seen as different or whether it’s just voyeurism varies depending on the outlet. But for photographer Zak Krevitt, this is the community where he feels most at home – spending his career not only involved in but also turning his lens on queer culture and its inner workings.
His latest series, Alpha, Beta, Omega, takes us behind the closed doors of the Human Puppy fetish community, a sub-group he became involved in after a panic attack led him to behave like a dog. Once he had finally shaken the anxiety, he jumped online to find see if anyone else had experienced it. Not satisfied to be just an observer, he attended a local group encouraging Puppy Play and has been documenting it and participating since in the hopes of reducing stigma towards his fellow pups.
As his work goes on display at New York’s Ray Gallery, we spoke with Krevitt to find out about puppy love, if sex is important and what drives the community.
“When you enter puppy headspace – when you really get deep – your mind is completely free from any of that, all you are worried about is getting a good belly rub or praise from your handler, or maybe just tackling another puppy and asserting your dominance” – Zak Krevitt
How did you get involved with the Human Puppy community?
Zak Krevitt: Summer of 2015 a few things happened, my childhood pet dog Mars died, I was across the country and had no closure, I didn’t even know he was sick really, and I didn’t find out about it until after it happened… it really shook me. At the same time, I was living with a very toxic roommate, he would do things like blast speed metal and carve inverted crosses into the floors, sharpen knives menacingly at 4am, and scrawl Biblical gibberish on the walls, so, you know, classic NYC Craigslist situation.
He refused to leave when we tried evicting him and opened a lawsuit against us the whole thing was causing me massive anxiety, and one night I snapped. I had a meltdown and found my self in the frantic puddle of a panic attack, in that moment, my human brain totally shut off, and I reverted to a very animalistic mindset, taking on the traits of a goofy retriever. My boyfriend indulged me and threw a tennis ball, I ran for it on all fours and brought it back, he threw it again, and again, and each time I brought it back and received some head scratches, I felt better and better. After coming out of the headspace, I hopped on the internet to figure what the hell had just happened. I immediately found NYC-PAH (New York City-Pups And Handlers), a local social group focused on “the raising awareness of the human-pup lifestyle”. I saw they were having a camping trip the next weekend, and decide to join. From then on, I’ve been a card-carrying member.
How long did you immerse yourself in the community?
Zak Krevitt: I’ve been involved in the community for a little over a year now. If I’m going to a con I seek out puppies that will be attending a few weeks before and get to know them before we shoot.
What is it that drives this community?
Zak Krevitt: I think there is a reason the community is expanding so rapidly at this time. Humans are more integrated with technology than ever, we are more stressed than ever, and Puppy Play offers a relief from this. When you enter puppy headspace – when you really get deep – your mind is completely free from any of that, all you are worried about is getting a good belly rub or praise from your handler, or maybe just tackling another puppy and asserting your dominance. I think anytime that type of escapism is so voraciously sought after, there is something larger going on.
Tell us about the title of the show, Alpha, Beta, Omega?
Zak Krevitt: Some pups have formed Packs, modeled after wild dog packs. The packs can take on many different permutations but traditionally follow a structure of Alpha, the leader, Betas, submissive to the Alpha, look to Alpha for direction, guidance, structure, and an Omega. The Omega is submissive to all others in the pack. In the wild, they are there for a bit of comic relief, which is actually very important on long grueling hunts in the winter and what not. I find this relationship very intimate and special. I think it’s beautiful that all roles are treated with equal respect and reverence. An Alpha wants for a pack, because they are a natural leader, and enjoy the role. Without Betas or an Omega, an Alpha may feel incomplete. The Betas want for a leader, an Alpha to guide them and give them a sense of purpose through subservience and dedication. The Omega provides an invaluable sense of relief when things get rough. In life outside of Puppy Play, social roles are often so ill-assigned and out of our control, but in a pack, all of these roles are chosen, and all are important. I think it’s interesting to explore this idea of direct power exchange in photography.
“The lifestyle means different things to different pups – for some it’s spiritual, and for others, it’s carnal” – Zak Krevitt
How important is sex in the community?
Zak Krevitt: Some pups like to wear gear, i.e. hoods, tails, muzzles, rubber, leather etc while getting into headspace, or just hanging out at an event, and others are more comfortable in street clothes or nothing at all. In the same vein, some pups and handlers have sexy fun while in that headspace, and some don’t. The community is born out of the fetish scene, and is often a sex-positive environment, but that can often manifest in a variety of kink related ways, with varying degrees of relation to Puppy Play. The lifestyle means different things to different pups – for some it’s spiritual, and for others, it’s carnal.
How welcoming is the community to people who want to join? Is it easy or difficult to gain trust and acceptance within it?
Zak Krevitt: Most pups will be more than happy to help bring you into puppy headspace, and show you the ropes. But, like any group, trust and acceptance are earned through your actions. Unwanted violence or sexual activity without consent will get you booted out the play-pen. By in large, the community is very welcoming. I urge anyone interested to seek out their local PAH chapter – there are groups in most major cities. Other resources like social media are also extremely helpful to finding like minded folk. Puppy Facebook is a great place to learn about the community and ask questions. People have this notion that Puppy Play is only for gay men, and, while gay guys take up a large portion of the community, there are many female, trans, and GNC pups in the community that are more than welcome to bark, sniff, and wag their way to a good time.
Alpha, Beta, Omega will be on show at New York’s Ray Gallery until 1 October. Images are available for purchase (excluding Master Joe and Pup Tut, 2016)
Follow Ashleigh Kane on Twitter here @ashleighkane