my life with dogs
October 5, 2010
When I go out to a portrait session for someone with a dog, I’m interested first in the dog. I immediately drop my gear and sit on the ground near the front door and hold my hand out for the dog(s) to sniff. I don’t have my camera out, I don’t walk through the house looking for the dog, I don’t sit on the sofa (which may very well be the dog’s spot) and I don’t offer treats. I just let the dog sniff around me, my jeans and my gear, getting whiffs of my dogs and me, and discovering in what can sometimes take about 10-15 minutes that it’s probably OK to let me inside the house.
What the house looks like doesn’t really matter to me. I’m not really looking out for the best light, or the prettiest place to ask the dog to sit. I don’t ask for a particular color of blankie and I don’t bring my own blankies. Like I said, I’m interested in the dog. It’s the dog I”m coming to shoot, so I want to get to know him as well as I can in that short time. Where does the dog sleep, where does he keep his toys (he usually starts to bring them out for me after a few minutes), who does he follow around the house, where are the no-man zones, only his, that I shouldn’t stomp all over?
Once the sniffing is over and the dog has calmed and allowed me further into the house, I start to talk to the people who this dog owns and build an idea in my head about what life with this dog is like. Is it crazy, spent running through the house, tickling butts and grabbing babies? Is it mellow, stretched out on the sofa with the dog’s head resting on someone’s chest? Has the dog found a place in this human’s world, or have the humans agreed to live in the dog’s world? Those are my favorite shoots; the ones where the people aren’t the head of the house by default; the ones where dog and human coexist. Where the only rule is that you must remember that others live there.
In an environment like that, I’m taking pictures of a life—not the dog’s life, not the man’s or the woman’s life, but of their life—and what it’s like to be spent with dogs.
This shot above is me and my dogs Jack and T. Though I’ve taken lots of portraits of them since they were rescued 2 years ago; this picture depicts better than any of the rest what it’s like in my house, in our life with our dogs. This is the best that I could ever give a client of mine. A photo that, when they hold it up to the light and look at it, grin at one another, look at the dog and say, “yeah, that’s exactly right.”