• Ruta Kalmane Saksens


Updated: Jun 11, 2021

Living in the 2021 means that most likely you are constantly carrying with you not only textile to satisfy your basic needs of warmth and comfort, but also that you are carrying several other types of materials with you, like silicone, plastic, iron, aluminium and… GLASS: which are materials used in smartphone manufacturing (Statista 2021). Taking photographic images of banal daily moments has become a serious behavioural addiction.

‘Industrial societies turn their citizens into image-junkies; it is the most irresistible form of mental pollution’ (Sontag, 1973: 18).

There’s more than one way and more than one reason to photograph something and it’s important to take a look at what, why and how something is done. The methodology that I use in my practice depends greatly on the specific series created. However, the present moment is what dominates in my photographic practice. Up to this point I haven’t relied on the past in my work. Focusing on capturing live animals means hunting for the right moment in the present and collaborating with the subjects themselves. Daniel Palmer has said that

‘collaboration in the medium of photography pertains not only to artistic coauthorship, but also to the relationship between photographers and their subjects, and also between photographs and viewers. In other words, if we move beyond the authorship of individual images and consider photography as a social and communicative activity, which unfolds over time, it turns out that most photography is collaboratively authored at some level’ (2017: 15).

Without the collaboration between me, the dogs and the participants some important concepts and activities would never be explored. For example, making a brush from dog fur, the participant using the brush and documenting the use of it, requires the collaboration between all three involved parties. Without the dog, there’s no brush. Without the participant, there’s no one to use it. Hence, the collaboration is an essential part of the process. However, after a tutor-led discussion this week in a webinar, my peers and the tutor have suggested that making a brush isn't very relative to explore the topic of bonding between a dog owner and the dog. Therefore, this experiment will not be something that I will continue further.

Fig. 1: Saksens 2021. The Dog Brush: Labrador-Weimariner [photographic image]

I do see the potential in combining past and present also in animal photography, especially when documenting the growth of animals – the different stages of their lives. The work of Carli Davidson is a good example of such repeat photography strategy. Since my practice is relatively recent, the past was not something I have focused on. However, I believe it might gain some importance in the coming future.

Fig. 2: Davidson (Undated). No title [photographic image]

Another important aspect in the work that I have been recently making for the Human-Canine Bond project, is montage. I use photographic images taken by me, the participants and the dogs to create photomontages that combine different perspectives in relation to the human-canine partnership. Merging images taken by more than one party means that the result is a bit chaotic, a bit naïve, a bit weird – just like dogs themselves. The result is also a bit disorientating, it takes a while to distinguish which part in the photomontage is taken by whom. I have greatly enjoyed combining photographic images together, and this strategy could be one that continues to be important to my photographic practice.

Fig. 3: Saksens 2021. The story of Buraz: in collaboration with Mila and her dog [audible digital photomontage]

Another strategy that I highly value in my work, is participation. The recent project about the human-canine bond involves a lot of collaboration with dog owners and dogs to achieve a photomontage image, but the participation doesn’t end with just achieving material for the final image. I develop close and friendly relationships with the participants and highly value their time and investment in the project. Being a dog owner myself it doesn’t surprise me that people are enthusiastic about their dogs and they are generally open-minded about the project, its goals and the process of obtaining material. Without the energetic and focused participants it would not be possible to achieve such lovely results. The willingness of the participants to reveal the stories behind the dogs and their active participation has led to a successful beginning of the Human-Canine Bond series. I couldn’t agree more with Claire Bishop’s words that

‘artistic practice can no longer revolve around the construction of objects to be consumed by a passive bystander. Instead, there must be an art of action, interfacing with reality, taking steps – however small – to repair the social bond’ (2012: 1).

Interacting and having conversations with dog owners means hearing a lot of different stories about their dogs. The non-fictive stories, in my opinion, add more importance to the photographic results. I always write down the most interesting parts of the stories that people tell me. The reasons behind having a dog and the way how people get a dog tend to greatly differ. Therefore, listening to the stories and documenting them is an important part of my practice. The stories compliment images and give a background knowledge of the lives of dogs and their bond with their human parent. Furthermore, when I create a photomontage, I add a QR code to it which leads to an audio sound of the particular dog, as well as to a short description of the dog.

Fig. 4: Saksens 2021. The story of Buraz [screenshot image]

At the end of the day there’s always more than one way to crack an egg, and there are many more photographic strategies to explore in the future. I believe it is valuable to try things out, discard the ones that don’t work for you and keep the ones in mind that have worked out well.


BISHOP, Claire. 2012. ‘The Social Turn: Collaboration and its Discontents’ in Artificial hells: participatory art and the politics of spectatorship. London: Verso.

PALMER,Daniel. 2017. Photography and collaboration: from conceptual art to crowdsourcing. London: Bloomsbury Academic.

SONTAG, Susan. 1973. On Photography. New York: RosettaBooks LLC.

STATISTA. 2021. Percentage of most materials used in a smartphone. Available online from: https://www.statista.com/statistics/270454/top-10-materials-in-a-smartphone/ [accessed 4 June, 2021].


Figure 1: SAKSENS, Ruta. 2021. The Dog Brush: Labrador-Weimariner [photographic image]. Private collection: Ruta Saksens.

Figure 2: DAVIDSON, Carli. Undated. No title. Available online from: http://www.carlidavidson.com/17jov5qrihpwa2m3zj88hx1eno6a57 [accessed 4 June 2021].

Figure 3: SAKSENS, Ruta. 2021. The story of Buraz: in collaboration with Mila and her dog [audible digital photomontage]. Private collection: Ruta Saksens.

Figure 4: SAKSENS, Ruta. 2021. The story of Buraz [screenshot image]. Private collection: Ruta Saksens.

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