“It’s the first wall dogs have to break through to find an owner," says " Kaleb Germinaro (C'17). "It’s like a professional headshot on LinkedIn. If you have a crappy picture, no one is going to take you seriously." When Kaleb noticed that too many shelter dogs up for adoption had blurry photos, he took matters into his own camera–carrying hands. He started reaching out to shelters last year and has since volunteered to photograph for four different dog rescues between Phoenix and Philadelphia. “If you can’t see their faces, it’s harder to connect with them right away,” Kaleb points out. “So when I take pictures of dogs with dark faces, my aim is that the details in their face don't disappear.”
The dogs on Kaleb's website and social media accounts are confident, lively and often look purebred. With striking clarity and candid body language, these aren’t your amateur pet pics. “I don’t really enjoy setting up shop or having the dogs do poses," Kaleb says. "Just make your animal feel comfortable wherever they are at.”
As adorable as they look on camera, many of his subjects carry stories of hardship behind the lens. In a photo of Willow, a boxer from Boxer Luv Rescue in Phoenix, one can see an imprinted line around her waist where she was bound to a table. Kaleb learned from working closely with the rescue animals that darker ones are less likely to be adopted.
Kaleb can tell his own story of overcoming adversity. He was recruited to play football at Penn as a wide receiver—but during a practice in December 2014, his "body started to feel funky." Kaleb's face went numb. He couldn’t lift his arm. The sports trainer sent Kaleb to the hospital, and he was diagnosed with a relapse of multiple sclerosis. “It’s a degenerative disease, so basically my immune system attacks my nervous system,” Kaleb says, further explaining that there is no known cause or cure.
“The first semesters back I did so bad [at Penn]. I got brain fog. I blacked out before tests due to my stress [and] anxiety,” Kaleb says. “But I got my bearings with the help of my professors, and here I am about to graduate.” Even though he had to be taken off the roster, neither his coach nor his teammates would let him go that quickly. Head Coach Ray Priore offered his former player a position as a student coach. With his own training not consuming all of his time, Kaleb picked up his first camera. “First, I photographed everything, whatever I saw. Coming back to school in August, I started to take photos of the football team whenever I had free time during practice,” he remembers.
“Photography served like an escape from reality, in a sense, because I was able to show everyone what I see,” Kaleb explains. “And another feature of photography is that you get to freeze time, especially when it’s a moment that you don’t get back.” In little over a year, he taught himself how to shoot manual and has taken on several private projects, worked for publications and held his first exhibit.
With all his practice and pointers from friends like Araba Ankuma (C’17), Kaleb was ready to take on more projects. In addition to volunteering for shelters, Kaleb began to take photos of couples and student groups. He now works for The WALK Magazine. However, a childhood obsession with animals inspires his favorite photography subject: dogs.
“I love the rawness of dogs. They are not faking it in a picture. They don’t know how to fake [smile] for you,” he says. “More often than not, what you see is what you get, which is one reason why I prefer shooting them over people.”
No matter what he is shooting, Kaleb tries to maintain a raw, edgy aesthetic. Fittingly, RAW, a national organization that promotes artists in the beginnings of their careers, noticed Kaleb's work and tapped him for their recent showcase in Philadelphia. The dynamic event incorporated all medians of art, and he was joined by fashion designers, painters and spray painters in the Trocadero Theatre. “It was really surprising and really humbling,” he says.
Next year, Kaleb will continue to live in Philly, pursuing a master's degree at Penn’s Graduate School of Education. Kaleb plans to keep photography and man’s best friend by his side.
“If it pays, it pays. If it doesn’t, it doesn't. I don’t want to force it into a profession and not enjoy it anymore,” Kaleb says. “If the opportunity comes knocking yeah, I’ll take it. A lot of the time it takes time for people to notice it.”
All photos courtesy of Kaleb Germinaro. From top: Finnegan is one of Kaleb's four adopted pet dogs at home. Four–year–old Willow has made a strong recovery at Boxer Luv Rescue in Phoenix after being abused for breeding purposes. Kaleb photographed Strictly Funk's recent fall show.