The #1 Animal

Video by Kenny Suleimanagich
Interview via Facebook Messenger, February 2016

As we get older it's easy to lose sight of the motivations which drew us to a particular medium in the first place. Expectations change. We put more pressure on ourselves. Everything gets so serious.

Kenny Suleimanagich's "The No. 1 Animal" is an endearing portrait of his grandfather that reminds us of the importance of playfulness, in life and in photography.

What was the motivation behind making this piece?

Whenever I visit home, I try and spend some time with my grandparents. They're rich with stories and idiosyncrasies, but often things I find fascinating are to them pretty banal. My grandfather's whole story of how he left his impoverished village to pursue his education, for example. A monumental journey into modernity. And to him the most interesting aspect of that is the squirrel that he tamed and brought with him.

So, you can recall your grandfather being interested in squirrels throughout your life?

Totally. When I was a kid he had one that would climb up his leg to his chest to grab the peanut.

Why do you think it's important to tell the stories of our grandparents?

They're sort of the last direct contact with the old world. Especially in my case, Europe was a totally different place before World War II. A lot of the customs and social conventions they knew as children before emigrating will fade away with time. So grabbing a little bit of that is important to me. My grandparents are all in their 80s.

I once met this guy who was maybe in his 50s. An Austrian diplomat. And he was telling me when he was growing up his parents were "a handshake away from some of the greatest artists in history." That always stuck with me. A handshake away.