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Schoep and John Unger relax in Lake Superior in Bayfield. (Photo by Hannah Stonehouse Hudson)

Viral image sparked new career trajectory for Bayfield photographer

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Viral image sparked new career trajectory for Bayfield photographer
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It has been two years since a Bayfield photographer captured an image that she credits as being life-changing.

It exploded on social media. At its peak, it caused her voicemail box to fill up four, five times a day. In London, her good friend was walking downtown and saw a copy of the photo on the cover of a newspaper. There were sightings in Hong Kong and “The Today Show” took notice.


Then there was the couple who drove seven-plus hours just to meet her and the subjects.

Hannah Stonehouse Hudson found them, uninvited, in her kitchen.

“It’s kind of scary to have people you don’t know walk into your kitchen,” Hudson said. “They believed I had caught love on camera. They wanted to thank me.”

Overwhelming, yes, but Hudson said she believed they came from a good place.

The photographer will give a presentation titled “Hannah Hudson: Gone Viral” on Monday at the Duluth Photography Institute. She will talk about social media chaos and how to balance life and work in the throes of shares, likes and retweets.

And she will talk about the new opportunities that have come from this internet fame — a list that includes the likes of this speaking engagement.

“It was crazy for months and it continues to be crazy,” Hudson said.


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The photo seen around the world

The image is of an ailing dog resting on his owner’s chest as they waded shoulder-deep in Lake Superior. Schoep, a 19-year-old shepherd mix, was suffering with arthritis and John Unger believed at the time that the dog wouldn’t live much longer.

He contacted Hudson, a friend, about taking some final photographs of Schoep. She met up with the duo at Reiten Beach in Bayfield, and it didn’t take long to capture the moment that would become Internet famous.

Hudson was mostly shooting weddings and commercial photography with a Midwest client base at the time, but this was a scene that epitomized what she wanted to do with a camera.

“Love and emotions and old dogs,” she said. “Old dogs are my favorite.”

Brian Rauvola, owner of the Duluth Photography Institute, credited Hudson with capturing authentic emotional content.

“There’s that real connection that it can make with the viewers,” he said. “They know the feelings they have for their pets. Seeing this image and the obvious love between Schoep and John just made it an outstanding photograph.”

What photos will and won’t go viral is impossible to determine, Rauvola said.

“I don’t think anyone has been able to define what it takes to catch that many viewers. It has to hit a certain critical mass.

“There’s a certain amount of luck involved, but it has to be a really good image that connects with viewers to get a chance.”

The photograph gained momentum, and in less than a week had more than 1.8 million views. Some of those viewers sent donations to help pay for more extensive veterinary treatments that Unger could not afford.

Schoep ended up living almost another year.

The photo didn’t just affect Hudson’s professional life. It indirectly led to comfort from strangers when, soon after, her husband died unexpectedly.

Jim Hudson, a well-known fishing guide, broke through the ice on a snowmobile the following winter.

People from around the world who had been moved by her photograph came forward to offer condolences.

“When my husband passed away, I was so well taken care of,” she said. “Not only by locals, the wonderful local people in the area, but by people who didn’t know me — who only knew about this photo I had taken.”

Hudson said that when the photo of Schoep went viral, she considered it her gift to the  universe.

“When Jim passed away, that was returned to me.”

A new direction

Hudson is still settling into a new life brought on largely because of the photograph — which continues to generate interest.

These days she travels around the country teaching employees at shelters how to take better photographs of their adoptable animals.

She has done sessions in Los Angeles, Fort Worth, Texas, and central Florida, and in August she will give a tutorial at Animal Allies in Duluth.

Weeks before the Schoep photo, Hudson told her husband that she wanted to make a career out of taking photographs of dogs.

“He said ‘That will never happen. Especially up here,’ ” she recalled. “Two months later I took the John and Schoep photo and now that’s pretty what I do.”

Case in point: Hudson has six weddings left to shoot before she takes a break from that style of photography. Her schedule is booked with workshops, pet photography, speaking engagements and writing.

“I’ve had to pick something to not do anymore,” she said.

If you go

What: “Hannah Hudson: Gone Viral”

When: 6 p.m. Monday

Where: Duluth Photography Institute, 405 E. Superior St.

Tickets: $5, free to DPI members. RSVP at (218) 393-2468

If you go

What: Photography workshop for volunteers interested in taking photos of Animal Allies’ adoptables

When: Aug. 5; time TBA

Where: Animal Allies, 4006 Airport Road

Call: Becky, volunteer coordinator, at (218) 623-6343

Christa Lawler
(218) 279-5536