Since its inception, the internet has been awash in images of adorable animals. The proliferation of increasingly high-production pet content has fed entire website verticals like BuzzFeed Animals and helped build a network of cute clickbait that Wired once deemed “the online cat-industrial complex.” The internet has few reliable rules, but one of them is that pets will always be popular.
As manicured subjects like Lil Bub and Maddie the Coonhound rose to fame, however, animal content became just a little too sanitized, a little too groomed, a little too disgustingly cute. The undeniable popularity of HD-broadcast Kitten Bowls has made the grainy, unpredictable YouTube clips of yore — like that bird in Russia randomly snowboarding in the wild — that much more coveted. (Let’s face it, if an enterprising person got a hold of that bird today, there’d be Yung Snowboarding Byrd merch and a Shaun White collaboration in the works within a few days.)
To combat the commercial aesthetic that has taken hold of pet content, some users on Twitter and Tumblr have supplemented the need for more natural portraits of animals. And nothing underlines the rise of indie pet content more than @chillwildlife, a popular Instagram account run by Japanese Canadian artist Jeff Hamada. The premise of the account is simple: post photos of animals that appear to be either (1) entirely satisfied with or (2) deeply indifferent to their current situation. The images are rarely staged, often of varying quality, and come with barely any context. It’s for those reasons that, amid a sea of branded pets, Hamada’s feed is so refreshing. The Ringer reached out to Hamada to ask what inspired the account, how he gathers his photos, and — most importantly — what makes wildlife chill. Here’s what he had to say.
Tell me a little bit about yourself: Who is the man behind @chillwildlife?
I live in Vancouver, BC. My “real” job is running an art website called Booooooom that I started eight years ago.
What are the qualities that make an animal “chill” in your eyes? Do you have a process of determining this?
I posted a video recently of a cat slapping a Frenchie’s balls around like a speed bag and somehow the Frenchie is too chill to care. It’s a really special video, very close to my heart. I think about those balls whenever I am deciding if something is a fit or not.
I know that the internet is a repository for endless animal content, but it leans toward cute. How do you get past that? Are there secret wells of chill animal images hiding somewhere obscure online?
Most of what people DM me ends up either not being a fit or links to a private Instagram account so I can’t even see the image. I have a few friends who regularly text me funny images, but the majority of the content is straight out of a very chill folder on my laptop, filled with years of images saved from Tumblr.
What do you think it is about these sorts of animals that we like so much?
Instagram can kinda be depressing when all you see are these glimpses of the most exciting parts of other people’s lives. I want to look at Instagram and feel good! I wanna see a squirrel eating a giant slice of pizza in a tree and keeping it real.
Why did you choose to start this account on Instagram, and not some other platform?
I originally chose Tumblr. I noticed someone forgot to renew the domain ArtVandelay.com (Seinfeld reference) so I snagged it for like $20 and I was posting animals there until I realized Instagram would be a lot less effort.
Would you recommend any other animal/wildlife accounts?
I like @earlboykins. It isn’t just animals on there but I think our tastes are similar.
Do you have a favorite chill animal?
Maybe this guy.