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A well-known Dutch photographer who was afraid of dogs has taken an unusual turn in her work, making them her subjects.

Hellen van Meene, who was best known for her portraits of adolescent girls, suffered from a dog bite when she was a young girl herself, so canines weren’t exactly her favorite animals.

But in The Years Shall Run Like Rabbits, a series of images on exhibit at the Yancey Richardson Gallery in New York until Dec. 21, she uses the lighting and formal elegance she’s known for to capture the relationship between girls and dogs.

Van Meene, 41, said she became interested in photographing animals while taking a portrait of her daughter with a Flemish Giant, which is a large rabbit.

“I had some film left so I took some pictures of the rabbit [alone], more for fun than anything else. When I checked the film, I thought it was quite interesting,” she told TIME. “It got me thinking of taking photos of other animals.”

Van Meene experimented with photographing goats, horses and even roosters, but they didn’t exactly follow instructions from the meticulous artist. Finally, she came across an image from the 1920s of a family in a studio posing with their dog in their best dress, and realized that they would be the animals for her work. She was really taken with the idea that, in a time when families only took a couple of pictures a year, this family included their dog. It showed just how much a member of the family dogs are to many people, and she realized she wanted to capture that.

She didn’t want to stop taking photos of girls, so she combined her loves by putting both in the same pictures.

“Although I was afraid of dogs, my instincts were so right to do it,” she said. And she discovered that these furry subjects actually did listen to her commands.  

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