Vincent Musi and Exotic Pets, By Way of National Geographic

Vincent J. Musi, courtesy National Geographic

Vincent J. Musi, courtesy National Geographic

Tomorrow night, veteran photographer Vincent J. Musi will take the stage at the National Geographic Museum. He’ll be discussing his latest story in the April 2014 magazine, “Exotic Pets,” where he explored the deep connections some people have with creatures not found in the corner pet store. He’ll be sharing images and stories from this assignment and other forays into the world of animals.

We’ll be giving away a pair of tickets to the show, so leave a comment below, using your first name and a valid email address; we’ll draw the winner before noon tomorrow. The event starts at 7:30 p.m. and parking is free at the museum’s garage after 6 p.m. for those attending the program.

Musi took a moment to answer some of our questions about his work and the project.

How did you approach the Exotic Pets project?

My goal was to offer a voice to people who had experience with exotic animals in a straightforward and non-judgmental way. These are folks who tend to get marginalized in what can be very sensational coverage by the press. I was looking for diversity in experience, animals, and opinions. Anyone who had a direct relationship with an exotic animal.

What was the most unusual pairing or situation you came across?

A breeder of jungle cat hybrids in Florida had a huge Tortoise, Canada Goose and a Pot Bellied Pig as her personal pets. Nothing can prepare you for the site of a Mountain Lion lounging pool-side at a brick ranch house or a white-tailed deer with her own bedroom.

Potbellied pig, courtesy National Geographic

Potbellied pig, courtesy National Geographic

What struck you most about the assignment?

How deep and real a good relationship can be. Many of these folks have dedicated their lives to their animals.

If you had a choice, what would you choose as your own non-human friend? Why?

The deer I photographed in her bedroom was among the most extraordinary animals I’ve ever been around. I fell in love with her. If I had to pick, I would pick Dillie, but as nearly ALL of the owners told me, “never get an exotic pet.”

How do you prepare for these animal projects?

It’s very hard to prepare, because you never know what you are going to find. At times, for my safety, we may build cages so I don’t get attacked. At other times we have to throwaway our clothes because they smell so bad.

What advice would you give to photographers who photograph animal subjects?

Bring lots of patience.

Having lived in the DC area for ten years, Ben still loves to wander the city with his wife, shooting lots of photos and exploring all the latest exhibits and galleries. A certified hockey fanatic, he spends some time debating the Washington Capitals club with friends – but everyone knows of his three decade love affair with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

A professional writer, gamer, photographer, and Lego enthusiast, Ben remains captivated by DC and doesn’t plan on leaving any time soon.

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