We Talk to Theron Humphrey, the Human Behind the Viral Photo Hit "Maddie on Things"
Maddie has a talent: She stands on things. While that might not sound impressive to some, fans of the Coonhound rescue turned Internet sensation know better. Maddie has posed atop soup cans, tires, road signs, and even animals -- horse and tortoise, to name two -- for the camera of her human, Theron Humphrey.
The professional photographer posts photos of Maddie's antics to Tumblr and Instagram, and a collection of favorites came out this week as a book, Maddie on Things: A Super Serious Project About Dogs and Physics.
We caught up with Humphrey during a break in their cross-country tour to promote the photobook for a chat about how adopting Maddie and pointing his camera at her has changed both of their lives.
Living a good story
The tale of how Maddie came to stand on things starts with Humphrey in 2010. The twentysomething took a long look at his life and came to a realization. "I wasn’t living a good story," he writes in the foreword to the book. "I wasn't waking up and creating something I'd be proud of, something beautiful. I wanted to point at something I loved and say, 'I made that.' That was the story I wanted to tell my kids some day. What I didn't realize was how important a Coonhound named Maddie would be to my adventure."
That adventure involved quitting his comfortable job in a corporate photo studio to visit 50 states in one year, telling a different person's story each day online through images and audio. He called the project This Wild Idea.
In the summer of 2011, Humphrey held a Kickstarter campaign to raise $15,000 for the road trip. Recently adopted Maddie appeared in the video explaining his idea, her sweet face no doubt helping him reach and exceed the goal.
Humphrey was living in Atlanta while finalizing funds and plans for his project. Having a canine companion, like John Steinbeck in Travels with Charley, was a must. "Dogs make any life journey more rich," he says now, but at the time he had no firsthand experience as a pet parent.
He recalls meeting Maddie at the Cobb County Animal Control shelter. "She looked like a deer," he says of her fawn coloring. "I played with her for a while, then we walked back to her cage. She pressed against me the entire way. Forty dollars later, I had a dog."
Humphrey found in Maddie a best friend and an excellent traveling companion. "She's got this great split personality. Maddie's really connected and into what I'm doing, but also very independent and will do her own thing when I need her to," he explains of their relationship, which he says resembled an old friendship almost immediately.
Becoming an Internet sensation
That fall, the pair hit the road to report This Wild Idea. They traveled in Humphrey's old Toyota truck, complete with camper to protect them from the elements at night if needed. It was during a stop in Pittsburgh that he took the first photo of Maddie on something unusual.
"I wanted to remember the vehicle and my companion," Humphrey recalls. "It's an intrinsically American thing to have a photograph of yourself with a car. I remember my mom had this great picture of her and a Mustang."
He stayed behind the camera, instead choosing to pose Maddie with the truck -- atop it, in fact. A funny thing happened: She stayed completely still, patiently waiting for Humphrey to get the shot.
"She just stood there and smiled at me," he writes in the foreword. "Good things seem to start that way. You know, small."
It may have started small, but this side project for Humphrey grew organically during their many weeks on the road. The photos of Maddie he posted to the Instagram account for This Wild Idea went viral, and that account now has more than 200,000 followers. Maddie has her own Tumblr now, Maddie on Things, where fans can see just her. The more challenging the pose, the greater the response.
Humphrey assures followers that Maddie remains safe at all times. He even shares details of a pose if it looks at all dangerous to her. In the image of Maddie atop a basketball hoop, his pickup camper sits just below out of frame. Humphrey helped Maddie get into position for that shot, as he does with many, but says she also loves to climb. Once in place, Maddie stays put knowing that her favorite treat, beef jerky, awaits her after the final click of her his camera. Humphrey's photos capture both the beauty of America and the bond between dogs and their humans.
Their new adventure
Humphrey and Maddie, who just celebrated her third birthday, recently embarked on a new adventure together, which has two parts. As they travel the country on their 35-city book tour, he also reports Why We Rescue. This storytelling project focuses on how animals transform our lives for the better and emphasizes the importance of rescue. Humphrey interviews a different subject each week and posts it online, and will continue until they have visited all 50 states.
"I want to help change the perception of shelter animals, let people know they are not second-rate," he says. "They're great animals. They just need good homes."
Thanks to the success of both This Wild Idea -- National Geographic named Humphrey a 2012 Traveler of the Year -- and Maddie on Things, they now travel more comfortably. Purina One sponsored Why We Rescue, allow them to get a sweet trailer.
And to watch the adorable Maddie in action, check out this video:
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