Prize-Winning Rabbits and Their Quirky Owners

Peyton Brackenbury, 12, from Richland, Washington, with her bunny, a French loop breed. Brackenbury began breeding rabbits when she was 6. Her first rabbit’s name was Snickers. She also raises dwarf hotots (the ones with dark circles around their eyes) and names them after eyeliner brands, such as Maybelline or Unique.
 “Raising rabbits by myself I learned responsibility,” she said.

Katya Rezvaya

How does a woman from St. Petersburg, Russia, end up in Portland, Oregon, photographing the American Rabbit Breeders Association convention? For Katya Rezvaya, it began when she watched Rabbit Fever, a documentary about ARBA’s 2005 national convention. The film was striking to Rezvaya, who said such a thing doesn’t really exist in Russia.

“I was laughing at first, and then I started thinking I should go there and take some portraits,” she said.

Rezvaya began reaching out to organizers but said correspondence was slow, so she decided to book her ticket to travel to attend the 2015 convention in Portland. Once there, things weren’t much easier. She found a place to stay that was far away from the convention, and she had to get up at 4:30 a.m. and walk along the highway in order to reach the convention center. During the days, she scouted out some of the rabbits and owners—a daunting task considering roughly 20,000 rabbits were on site.

Everything about the convention was fascinating to Rezvaya, including the owners who came from around the country. What jumped out at her were the names the owners gave to their rabbits: Some were named after Ozzy Osbourne and his family and others after brands of makeup—not as a slap against animal testing but rather to highlight the dark circles around the rabbits’ eyes.

Bill Nelson, 66, from Burbank, South Dakota, with his Polish breed rabbit. Nelson has raised rabbits since 1983 and currently has about 60. He feels that number is too high to name each one. The “name” of this one is DL11.

Katya Rezvaya

Susan Hathaway, 58, from Bandon, Oregon, with her rabbit Enterprise, a Flemish giant breed. Susan and her husband have 26 Flemish giants. Each rabbit weighs about 16 pounds. To name their rabbits, they choose one letter of the alphabet and a theme for each year. The letter for 2015 was E, and the theme was ships.

Katya Rezvaya

Kaytlyn Starmer, 18, from Fresno, California, with her bunny, Henry (5 months), a Holland lop breed. Starmer got a pet rabbit in 2012 and now has 15. “At one of the shows the cage opened, and all four rabbits ran out,” she said. “And as I’m crying and going to get my mother, all four rabbits just started to follow me. They followed me like I was their mom.”

Katya Rezvaya

Rezvaya set up a makeshift studio (she had to pay to use the electricity), interviewed about 30 breeders, and photographed them with their rabbits. She said she would like to make a book of the work, which she titled “Oh My Rabbits,” but she needs to visit more conventions—a complicated and expensive process. For now, she’s focusing on other documentary work, a genre she fell in love with after taking a course that shifted her focus from fine art to photojournalism.

Still, Rezvaya describes herself as an introvert and said it took her a long time to feel comfortable approaching people to take their photographs. But she said she felt at ease working with strangers at the rabbit convention.

“Sometimes it’s easier for me to go to Portland for a photo shoot than to make it in St. Petersburg,” she said.

“Rabbit King” Garret Sanders, 17, with his bunny Olds, a silver marten breed. Sanders only names rabbits that do well in competition. He currently names rabbits after cars, and previous themes include candy bars and soda. “It’s amazing to be a king; I never thought it would happen,” he said. Sanders would like to become president of ARBA someday.

Katya Rezvaya

Tommy Bentley from Camas, Washington, with his bunny, Ozwald, a dwarf hotot breed. Bentley bought his first rabbit at auction for $2. He called him Ozzy Osbourne and ended up winning a show. Ozwald is a grandson of a pair of rabbits named Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne. Tommy has 12 rabbits. “I always give names to my rabbits,” he said. “Some people don’t think about them like pets. But for me they are like family. And I know they always love you back.”

Katya Rezvaya