Dogs and Photography: A Historic Pairing

By FREDERICK M. WINSHIP  |  Feb. 18, 2002 at 10:45 AM
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NEW YORK, Feb. 18 (UPI) -- Ever since photography was invented, man's best friend has been a favorite subject of photographers -- a historic pairing that is documented in a fascinating exhibition covering more than 160 years of camera art at the UBS Paine Webber Art Gallery.

The earliest picture in "A Thousand Hounds: A Walk with the Dogs Through the History of Photography" is Nicholas Henneman's photograph of poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning's spaniel, Flush, a mop of featureless fur caught napping in 1840. The photographic images of nearly 200 other dogs, including some of the sniff search canines used to locate survivors of the Sept. 11 Twin Towers disaster, are included in the show.

The exhibition was inspired by a book, "A Thousand Hounds" by Raymond Merritt and Miles Barth (Taschen, 600 pages, $30) and will travel widely through the United States, Europe, and Japan under the sponsorship of the Cygnet Foundation after it leaves the Paine Webber gallery March 29. The foundation will use funds raised by the exhibition to provide resources for qualified animal shelters for dogs (and cats).

It was just as well that Henneman found Flush asleep because animals were difficult to photograph in the early days of daguerreotypes, tintypes, and ambrotypes that required the camera subject to remain absolutely still for several minutes to avoid blurring. Improved cameras made it possible to catch animals in motion, such as a German shepherd leaping over a battle trench in World War I.

Dogs have been photographed as pets and strays, predators and working animals, mascots and war heroes, and entertainers by such world famous 20th century photographers as Henri Cartier-Bresson, Paul Strand, Charles Sheeler, Alfred Eisenstadt, Andre Kertesz, Man Ray, Jacques-Henri Lartique, Edward Steichen, Martin Munkacsi, Weegee (Arthur Fellig), Andy Warhol, and Linda McCartney, who is represented by a photo of her pet Maltese, Merdock.

One photographer, William Wegman, has made a career of photographing Weimaraners dressed up as people since the 1970s and is represented in the show by "The Bishop," a recent creation depicting a dog togged out in ecclesiastic robes. The earliest examples of photographing a dog with props is an 1861 hand-colored daguerreotype of a white mongrel smoking a pipe and an 1890 albumen print of a mutt in top hat and white tie smoking a meerschaum.

Animal photographs by outstanding photographers have often wound up on covers of periodicals that featured fine photography, such as Life magazine whose 1937 cover "Terrier Barking Up Tree" and 1946 cover of a pointer titled "Field Trial" are on display. Others have often been featured in museum shows of photos such as Robert Mapplethorpe's beautiful study of his pet poodle, Rory, and Robert Doisnear's picture of a beagle with broken back legs supported by wheels.

Celebrities often have posed for photo portraits with their pets. An early one is an 1870 "carte de visite," a commercially popular postcard size celebrity photograph, of Queen Victoria with a plump corgi at her feet, the same breed favored by her great-great granddaughter, Queen Elizabeth II. Equally imperial is American social leader Mrs. Edward H. Harriman with her aristocratic Russian borzoi at her side, snapped just prior to World War I.

Later celebrities, such as film stars, picked up and cuddled their pets for the cameraman. Joan Collins is shown stretched out on a pink bed with her pink-dyed poodle in a 1955 photo by Slim Aarons, and Eve Arnold snapped Marilyn Monroe in 1957 posing with her black-and-white dog clutched to her famous bosom. The feeling of attachment between pooch and mistress is just as strong in Diane Arbus' photo titled "Circus Fat Lady and her Dog, Troubles."

Dogs were included in sexy pictures in France as early as the 1850s as evidence by a "pornographic" post card showing a nude posed on a ladder holding her pet. At the other end of the photo spectrum is a 1996 picture of serious spiritual intent showing a setter posed in an attitude of prayer, nose down between two outstretched legs, which photographer Harry Giglio titled "Prayer for Peace."

Man's best friend in his role as man's protector and savior is given a large segment of the exhibition.

British Highlander officers are seen posing with their mascots in an 1856 Crimean War photographs by Roger Fenton, and Stubby, a bulldog hero of World War I, posed for a portrait with the medal bestowed on him by Gen. John J. Pershing around his neck. Stubby was credited with saving many American soldiers from German mustard gas grenades by barking to give them time to put on gas masks.

Two other war photographs, both by anonymous photographers, rank as the most arresting works in the show. A 1914 photo titled "German Sentry" is a beautiful composition of diagonal lines showing a sentry, his rifle, and a shepherd dog silhouetted against the snow. A 1944 photo shows a soulful, seated dog looking away from a ghostly line of German soldiers retreating from Leningrad in a snowstorm.

A recent group of photographs from the Twin Towers ground zero in New York City shows search dogs at work, the most dramatic being Preston Keres' view of an exhausted dog in a basket being hauled to safety on a rope after a day of duty in the wreckage. Another, by Hale Gurland, immortalizes a search dog posed with his rescue crew master.

Dogs in the wild and in distress get their moment on film. Vik Muniz 1994 photo titled "Coyote" is fierce and frightening as are other photos of feral dogs by Robert Stivers, Michael Rovners, and Jo Ratcliffe. Jane Atwood offers a picture of a confused, ailing mutt in the middle of a busy highway, and Lucien Clergue captures a stray napping in a pile of boxes in Arles, France.

Some canine photographs seem to sum up the tenor of terrible times.

Gilles Peress snapped a dog loyally guarding the tomb of his slain master in a Croatian cemetery in Kosovo in 1999, and a photographer covering the anti-Russian Taliban war in 1996 caught a stray, ears laid back in apprehension, pausing briefly in his search for food in the street of an abandoned village lined by ruined clay brick walls. The photo is titled simply, "Afghanistan."

Coming away from this show, a quotation on a wall label ascribed to a writer named Toussenet, takes on new meaning. It reads, "In the beginning, God created man, but seeing him so feeble, He gave him the dog."

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