I wasn't even looking for a castration-related image when I came across the stock photo of two recently disembodied cat testicles.
The stock photo just appeared, like Athena springing from Zeus's head, on my computer screen: cat testes, freshly snipped, downloadable for a reasonable fee on the stock photo site Stocksy. The testicles were opalescent and the size of shriveled grapes, gently glazed with a sheen of blood.
As any responsible journalist would, I began digging around and found that the "Tomcat Castration" (title courtesy of artist) photo was part of a larger series (link NSFW, if you work in an environment that frowns upon cat genitals), documenting the before, during, and after of a routine neutering surgery; it follows our protagonist, a ginger cat, as his manhood is surgically removed.
The stock photo site on which the photo series had been uploaded, Stocksy, is known for reinventing the art of the stock photo; it describes itself as an "artist-owned digital-licensing co-op," and it employs over 600 photographers. Most all of the photos on Stocksy are rather aesthetically pleasing and, for lack of a better word, artsy looking. Although the subject matter at hand (cat balls) may seem incongruous, the lighting and composition of these photos are indeed very aesthetically pleasing.
The photographer who had taken and uploaded the photographs, Urs Siedentop, has a diverse portfolio, including fashion editorial, wildlife photography, and extremely chill pics of skateboarders. I sent him an email expressing interest in the castration photos, and he responded with a three-page .pdf containing facts about the cat in question (name: Titou; favorite food: "mice, birds, spiders, butterfly's [sic], liver, lamb," favorite drink: water), the cat's owners (Pit and Alice), and the presiding vet (Herbert; age 69; Pit's father; "did bull castrations").
In a series of follow-up questions, also sent via .pdf, Urs explained the genesis of "Tomcat Castration" in more detail. The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Broadly: Can you tell me a little about yourself?
Urs Sidentop: I'm 37, a fully bearded father, surfer, Cafe Racer-fan, horrible guitar player, reading Jostin Gaarder's Ringmaster's Daughter, eating plenty of bananas.
How did you come to take photos of this cat castration?
I got the idea by sheer chance—at a bar, of course! I met Pit and Alice [the cat owners], two good friends of mine, and they told me their story about Titou, their cat, becoming castrated. I found the story dramatic, scary, and informative at the same time, just fascinating. So I got to document Titou's blackest day.
Have you photographed any other castrations before?
No, I think one is enough…
In your first .pdf, you mentioned that you were a little hungover when you took the photos. Was that difficult for you? I imagine you must have felt sick.
I did not have enough sleep and was still a little on fire but the surgery did not do much to me. I have seen worse working as an ambulance driver before my studies. But I partly felt the anesthetization of the testicles!
What were Titou's owners like? What about the vet?
Pit did not show up that morning. Alice, his girlfriend, secured coffee-supply and assisted Herbert the vet. Alice did not show a trace of disgust. Herbert the vet had done castrations on bull before—a cat castration did not dis-countenance him at all.
Why did you decide to put the photos on Stocksy?
Well, I think these pics fill a little niche in the great collection on Stocksy. Pictures like this are an opportunity to poke out from the pure masses of pictures in the market for stock photography. But, seriously, I had no commercial object for this project. I was just fascinated by this dramatic topic as a male.
I was just fascinated by this dramatic topic as a male.
What sorts of things did you think these photos would be used to illustrate?
Medical books, VICE magazine…
Have you heard from Titou since?
After your interview request, I visited Alice, Pit, and Titou to get additional information. While we were having the interview with the owners, Titou sat aside, listening carefully as if knowing what we were talking about. Since his castration, Titou lives in a platonic partnership with a neighboring male cat, is very relaxed, loves butterflies, and cuddles a lot with his owners.