Photographer breaks ‘stoic’ cat stereotypes by snapping pics of them ‘crazy’ on catnip

February 14, 2024

Cats can look pretty wild when they’re on a catnip high—and photographer Andrew Marttila has spent the last six years capturing those crazy moments. “There’s saliva and catnip everywhere,” 37-year-old Martilla says, according to a report by People.

In 2018, Marttila was playing around with his camera, experimenting with flash photography. “You can capture really interesting bizarre things,” he says. On a whim, he gave a bit of catnip to his 13-year-old Bengal cat, Haroun, “to see what his reaction [would be] and try to capture whatever [happened].”

“I had no idea what I would get. And the result was something really, really incredible and strange and sparked the interest of a lot of people around the world,” Marttila says. The images launched a series of photographs about cats high on catnip that has been turned into a book, an annual calendar, and more.

Marttila says he loves showing cats’ funny, silly sides. “I think there’s a misunderstanding that cats are aloof or very stoic, and it’s only in recent years that the silliness of cats has started to become more prevalent and prominent in pop culture,” he shares. “And I love exploring that side. I love showing cats sort of just enjoying themselves. I like just showing them funny and out of the norm.”

The flash photography allows him to “freeze these little moments” that “the human eye is not able to see,” he adds. “It’s a different window into their lived experience, especially when they’re high. You’re able to get an insight into just how crazy they do get on catnip.”

When he arrives at a photo shoot, he usually brings five varieties of catnip with him. “I’ll put catnip on a table or on the ground and have the lighting set up to accommodate where I think they will have their little freak-out moment and then sort of just let them do their thing. And as they are going wild, I snap photos.”

Marttila says about 70% of cats respond to catnip—and every cat reacts very differently. “You never know what you’re going to get,” he shares. “I think it’s the sort of the surprise factor, especially when I’m taking the photos, even I don’t know what I’ve gotten until I go back and review the images because it happened so quickly.”

For anyone worried the practice may be inhumane, Marttila—who also runs the Orphan Kitten Club rescue in San Diego with wife, Hannah Shaw —assuages those fears. “One comment that I get a lot when these pictures are on bigger publications is, ‘This is damaging to the cats. Why are we creating drug addicts in our cats?’ And it’s ignorance. It’s really not understanding what catnip does. And it is a very fast acting type of chemical. It is completely natural. There’s no chance of them becoming dependent on catnip,” he says.

Marttila also encourages people to try it at home. “I highly recommend giving a little bit or a lot of it to your cat just to see what their reaction is. Most of the time it will be an extremely positive experience for you and your cat. The daily life of a cat can … be just indoors in an apartment somewhere, and this can give them a little bit of a reprieve from the monotony of their daily existence.”

Research contact: @people