A chipmunk looks over a half-eaten piece of watermelon in a photograph by Lauren Kennedy, made in her Portland backyard. Kennedy has a whole series of seriously cute images featuring chipmunks. Credit: Courtesy of Lauren Kennedy

PORTLAND, Maine — Lauren Kennedy sets traps for the chipmunks in her backyard. Peanuts are Kennedy’s best bait. The wily rodents can’t resist the promise of a free meal. As soon as the little buggers go for the goodies — snap! — she’s got them.

They don’t know how lucky they are.

Instead of springing a deadly contraption, Kennedy is only snapping pictures, trapping the critters in adorable, ingenious digital photographs. The vibrant images may be cutesy but Kennedy employs serious wit, and oodles of patience, in her outdoor photographic ambushes.

Along with the peanuts, she constructs tiny, often comical, sets for her furry collaborators. There’s shopping carts full of food, a lawn chair with an American flag, a half eaten watermelon.

Lying on her stomach, eye to the camera with a wide-angle lens, Kennedy waits for the chipmunks to wander into the frame and eat. Sometimes, it’s a long wait. They’ve grown to trust Kennedy but they’re still wild animals.

The chipmunk photos are a slow-burning project she’s been working on for a few years, just because she enjoys it. Kennedy’s regular line of photographic work includes portraits, magazine stories and babies being born.

Recently, BDN Portland sat down at a coffee shop to talk to Kennedy about her evolving project.

Q: What makes you take pictures?

Kennedy: I like making pictures because it captures a moment in time. With the chipmunk photography, it’s so lighthearted, it’s just a great way to capture a serene, beautiful moment. It’s fun.

Credit: Courtesy of Lauren Kennedy

Q: How did you start shooting — you know what I mean — the chipmunks?

Kennedy: I’ve always loved every animal, every animal possible. I’m often outside and I saw one running around. I took a handful of peanuts and held it out. It came right up to me and ate out of my hand. Since I’m a photographer, it was only natural that I started taking pictures of it. I’ve been photographing them since 2011.

Q: These are all right in your own backyard?

Kennedy: I’ve had so many chipmunks come through [my yard]. There’s been a few that I had a real connection with. I have three that visit me on a daily basis [right now] and they all have their own personalities. Some are shy and some are more adventurous. This one that I’ve been photographing for the past couple of years, he’ll come right up to me, sit right on my lap. He’ll do just about anything for a peanut.

Credit: Courtesy of Lauren Kennedy

Q: How did you progress to the props and sets?

Kennedy: After so many pictures of them just stuffing their mouths with peanuts, I was like, “OK, I’ve already got these shots. What else can I do?” I had some dollhouse furniture laying around and I thought, “I’m going to throw a little chair in there.” It just kind of went from there.

Q: How did you get the chipmunk to perch so perfectly in the lawn chair with the flag behind it?

Kennedy: Photography is all about being able to predict what the subject will do next. I was able to position the peanuts so it would get up there. It will alway get three peanuts, exactly. It puts one on each side of its mouth and one in the middle. I only put two peanuts out. I knew it would put one on each side, and then look [for the third peanut]. That’s how I got the shot.

Credit: Courtesy of Lauren Kennedy

Q: Now tell me about the watermelon shot. Is it really eating the watermelon?

Kennedy: No, he’s not. It’s peanuts in his mouth.

Q: But you set it up to look like he’s enjoying a huge slice of melon?

Kennedy: I did, yeah. I was eating the watermelon but got full. I carved out the slice and just buried some peanuts in it. I just put two in, again, so it would just have them in its cheeks. Then, I just snapped a picture — and then I gave it a third peanut because I felt bad and it was being such a great model.

Q: Sorry to ask you to give up your secrets.

Kennedy: I haven’t told anyone that.

Credit: Courtesy of Lauren Kennedy

Q: Do you have plans for these photos?

Kennedy: No. But maybe, eventually, a calendar to benefit the Center for Wildlife [in Cape Neddick]. A ton of people have said that I should make them into a book. I just set up an Instagram account for it.

Q: Do you get something more than pictures out of your interactions with the critters?

Kennedy: I was always told that meditation would help out my anxiety, but being the anxious person I am, a formal approach only made me more anxious. I found that sitting outside and waiting for my chipmunks is a way for me to meditate. It sounds silly, but I truly believe meditation can come in many forms. It has tremendously helped with my anxiety.

Q: It’s been great to talk to you. I can’t wait to see what you come up with next.

Kennedy: Thanks again for doing a story on my little pals.

Q: No problem.

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

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Troy R. Bennett is a Buxton native and longtime Portland resident whose photojournalism has appeared in media outlets all over the world.