Man’s best friends have been depicted in myriad ways that reflect ourselves and our sensibilities, as this new book shows
A new Magnum photobook, published by Thames & Hudson, explores the varying ways photographs have depicted dogs and their relationship to people. Spanning over seven decades of Magnum’s image archive, the book displays our canine friends in a range of settings: on the street, competing in shows, at the beach, with their celebrity owners, and in our homes.
Here, we share an extract from the book’s introduction by Jonny Clowes, and then take a closer look at what images of dogs say about us through a selection of the images from each of the book’s chapters.
Magnum photographers are a rare breed. Since the photo agency was founded in 1947 by Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Capa, David Seymour and George Rodger, its international members have had a knack for being in the right place at the right time – and often in the wrong place at the right time. They’re on hand for historic happenings and crises across the world, tracking those big- scale public events with a tenacious ability to immortalize not only a moment in time, but also the key ones. Private moments, too – Magnum has them covered.
And then there’s that place in between: the local scene, the pedestrian streets. The photographers are there, documenting the everyday, seeking recognizable and relatable goings-on. Although their work depicts an array of styles, they share an idiosyncratic pedigree of journalist, artist and storyteller. Wherever they travel, they are unified by a curiosity for real stories – surprising, unbelievable, but real. It’s not so surprising, then, that a dig through the extensive archives unearths a notable presence of dogs.
Dogs are also there during global conflicts, in the homes of the privileged, on the laps of the homeless on the streets. They’re in every country, on every continent. Oblivious to a watchful lens, unaware and unself-conscious, without a scrap of falsity, dogs just do their own thing without a thought to what they look like, while we stiffen and posture and pose. Yes, a dog can be trained to perform (we’ll get to that), but they don’t pretend – if they’re hungry, they’ll let you know, and if they’re happy, their tails will give it away. Animals possess authenticity, so our canine counterparts – walking the same sphere as us, living in unison with humans – provide a serendipitous subject for an honest snapshot. Of course, it helps that – unlike their aloof feline rivals, but much like these photographers – dogs are right in the thick of it. Unabashedly in your face and in the way, trailing havoc and mess and mistakes in their wake, and everything that makes a photograph real.
– Jonny Clowes
On the street
From Elliott Erwitt capturing a terrier’s jump mid-air in Paris in 1959, to Richard Kalvar’s snapshot of two hounds walking separate ways, dogs have featured in a great number of Magnum’s most recognizable street photography images. A dog suited in sunglasses and coat, a cigar hanging from its mouth, conveys a certain grace in Thomas Hoepker’s picture from New York; in the solitude of the street scenes in Mexico and Columbia, Alex Webb and Alec Soth’s dogs are restful focal points for the eye. These images explore the canines who appear momentarily in outdoor scenes and create serendipitously amusing, contemplative, or eye-pleasing images.
Showing dogs is an example of the many unusual hobbies humans practice and obsess over. In these images, the exaggerated appearances of these animals achieved through —at times criticized —breeding practices, and through grooming, happen to enhance the unique features of their owners. Martin Parr’s images exemplify this, highlighting the curious ways we compete via our pets. Dog shows are a place for magic and wonder, as Guy Le Querrec demonstrates via his images of three ribbon-adorned, fluffy, performing dogs, who execute their circus act hovering over spinning wheels. These pictures reveal how we express our sporting impulses, reflect our own personal quirks, and gain great joy through our animals.
By the sea
As humans indulge in moments of repose on the beach, it feels fitting that our animal companions might join us to share in our relaxation. Herbert List depicts a Dalmatian sitting at the feet of its owner at the beach in Portofino, Italy, who tilts its head regally skyward. A dog walks across two frames on a roll of film captured by Sohrab Hura as the photographer sits on sand in front of an ebbing tide in India, and Trent Parke captures the submerged legs of a canine co-adventurer in the waters offshore of the Cook Islands. Images by Magnum show that, whether it’s action or idleness we seek, our pets can often enjoy leisure time with us on holiday.
From darlings of the silver screen, to popular songstresses, to socialites: influential figures in culture are often seen accompanied by their furry friends. It’s a phenomenon that many of Magnum’s photographers have depicted throughout the 20th century as well as in recent years. From Jane Fonda—depicted by David Hurn, whose blonde tresses match those of her golden retriever, to Audrey Hepburn—photographed by Philippe Halsman— who plays with her dog in a country garden in Rome, these pets frequently make for a revealing insight behind the veil of celebrity and into the character of the photographed subject.
The photographs which reveal the most intimate parts of ourselves are sometimes those that portray our private lives. How someone arranges their home is usually something of a giveaway of their psyche, even when an occupier isn’t present in the shot. When our dogs find themselves in our pictures, this proves even more true. Harry Gruyaert’s dog atop a hotel room bed – red stilettos scattered at its foot — inspires questioning around what hasn’t been revealed in this shot. A couple on their wedding day, pooch in tow, photographed by Chien-Chi Chang, depicts an image of domesticity. From disarray to perfect arrangement, dogs form an intrinsic part of the psychology around how we think of home.