• Ruta Kalmane Saksens


Updated: Mar 8, 2021

Photography often goes hand in hand with other disciplines. Photographers have for many years combined art and photography, science and photography, literature and photography, as well as many other interdisciplinary practices.

Just as skilfully as da Vinci combined art and science in the 15th century, Eadwaerd Muybridge merged science and photography in the 19th century. His canine locomotion series of a dog running were made in an attempt to understand dog running movements.

Fig. 1: Muybridge 1872-1885. Dog; galloping; white racing hound Maggie [collotype on white wove paper]

Apart from the field of photography, I would like to research such disciplines as human-canine bond, canine emotions and perhaps canine vision later in the study. I would like to look at such questions as how can dog facial expressions be interpreted, how a photographer can represent the human-canine bond in their work and what are the recognizable emotions of dogs? I would like to capture photographs that would represent unique relationship between dogs and their owners and that would show interesting personalities of dogs by revealing different facial expressions and human-like emotions. People tend to interpret canine emotions according to their knowledge about human emotions, thus achieving the effect of anthropomorphism.

Anthropomorphism is ‘the attribution of human characteristics or behaviour to a god, animal, or object.’ (Lexico 2021)

According to a research done back in 2003 by Odendaal and Meintjes, positive interaction between a human and a dog leads to several health benefits. The ‘results indicate that concentrations of beta-endorphin, oxytocin, prolactin, beta-phenylethylamine, and dopamine increased in both species after positive interspecies interaction’ (Odendaal and Meintjes 2003). This means that interaction with dogs increases hormones of happiness and reduces stress levels. Since the beginning of the lockdown the company of a dog has been particularly important to those owners who live in isolation and don’t have much contact with other people.

Human-canine bond, canine emotions and anthropomorphism are topics of interest of many dog photographers. It is particularly worth mentioning such photographers as Elliott Erwitt, Mary Ellen Mark, William Wegman and Vincent Legrange.

Fig. 2: Erwitt 1968. No title [unknown]

Erwitt’s dog photographs include a lot of examples of the close relationship between dogs and their human companions. The photographs have a strong emotional appeal as well.

Fig. 3: Mark 1990. Maya Miller [gelatin silver print]

Mark took many photographs that show the bond between a dog and its owner. Often those were celebrities with their dogs, like for example Maya Miller who can be seen in this photograph.

Fig. 4: Wegman 1997. George [colour polaroid]

Wegman has photographed his own dogs dressed in human clothes, achieving humorous results. Due to the use of different human outfits, the dogs resemble real humans, thus anthropomorphism is achieved.

Fig. 5: Legrange 2013. Charlie [digital image]

The photographer Vincent Legrange has already explored the topic of canine emotions trying to show in his photographs the variety of emotions that dogs possess. He refers to dogs of his own work as being creatures that are almost human. When looking at his dog portraits one can identify many of the facial expressions that are also typical to humans.

Fig. 6: Saksens 2021. Human-canine relationship [digital photographic image]

Human-dog relationship might not be simple, but it is certainly worth being looked at. The intimate candid moments between humans and their dogs reveal the special interspecies bond. To show human-canine bond I plan to photograph people with their dogs in their homes as well as at outside locations while observing the interaction between the owner and the pet.

When it comes to colour, I would like to represent the human-canine bond in black and white. I believe that this approach could help to enhance the emotionality in the photographs. Moreover, dogs themselves are partly colour-blind. Apart from monochrome tones, dogs see only yellow and blue tones (Meyers 2019).

Fig. 7: Unknown author 2020. No title [digital image]

The topic of colour blindness in relation to photography has been previously looked at by the photographer Davide Sasso who created a series of photographs that represent the world as humans with colour blindness condition tritanopia might see it. Although his photographs are unusual in terms of their colours and the photographer has attempted to show the world as a colour blind person would see it, he has failed to indicate the scientific approach and methodology that he has used to produce the photographs of the series, therefore the scientific aspect of the photographs is highly questionable in terms of reliability.

Fig. 8: Sasso c.2018. No title [digital image]

The following photograph of my dog was taken last year during a trip to Dutch coastal area. The colours in the photograph are manipulated in the post-production process to achieve a result that would represent the world in colours as a dog might see it.

Fig. 9: Saksens 2020. A dog digging [digital image]

In the photograph you can also observe an instinctive canine behaviour - digging. Dogs love to dig. According to Gibeault (2019) some dog breeds are more likely to be obsessive diggers than others, like terriers. They have an ability to follow the pray into tunnels in the earth. Finding pray is one of the most instinctive behaviour patterns that a dog has. Another reason why dogs dig, is to bury their pray in order to protect it from others. Some dogs dig to simply get under barriers, and some do it for pure pleasure.

Although nobody can truly understand what is going on in a dog’s mind, dogs do have emotions and they tend to show a variety of funny facial expressions which people tend to compare with their own emotions. Canine colour blindness is a truly interesting topic that would require further investigation.


GIBEAULT, Stephanie. 2019. 'Why Do Dogs Dig?' American Kennel Club [online]. Available at: https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/training/why-is-my-dog-digging/ [accessed 19 February 2021].

LEXICO. 2021. ‘Meaning of anthropomorphism in English’. Lexico [online]. Available from https://www.lexico.com/definition/anthropomorphism [accessed 24 February 2021].

MEYERS, Harriet. 2019. 'Are Dogs Color Blind? Side-By-Side Views'. American Kennel Club [online]. Available at: https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/are-dogs-color-blind/ [accessed 16 February 2021].

ODENDAAL, J.S.J. and R.A. MEINTJES. 2003. ‘Neurophysiological correlates of affiliative behaviour between humans and dogs’. National Library of Medicine [online]. Available from:https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12672376/[accessed on 6 March 2021].


Figure 1: MUYBRIDGE, Eadweard. 1872-1885. Dog; galloping; white racing hound Maggie [collotype on white wove paper]. From RA [online]. Available from: https://www.royalacademy.org.uk/art-artists/work-of-art/dog-galloping-white-racing-hound-maggie-1 [accessed 24 February 2021].

Figure 2: ERWITT, Elliott. 1968. No title [unknown]. From Elliott Erwitt. 2008. ‘Elliott Erwitt’s Dogs’ (p. 29). Kempen: teNeues Media GmbH.

Figure 3: MARK, Mary Ellen. 1990. Maya Miller [gelatin silver print]. From Raymond Merritt. 2018. ‘The Dog in Photography’ (p. 459). Köln: TASCHEN GmbH.

Figure 4: WEGMAN, William. 1997. George [color polaroid]. From Fotomuseum den Haag [online] Available from: https://www.fotomuseumdenhaag.nl/en/exhibitions/being-human [accessed 24 February 2021].

Figure 5: LEGRANGE, Vincent. 2013. Charlie [digital image]. From Vincent Legrange [online]. Available from: https://finni.be/ [accessed 24 February 2021].

Figure 6: SAKSENS, Ruta. 2021. Human-canine relationship [digital photographic image]. Private collection: Ruta Saksens.

Figure 7: Figure 18: UNKNOWN. 2020. No title [digital image]. From BC SPCA [online]. Available from: https://spca.bc.ca/news/how-dogs-see-colour/ [accessed 24 February 2021].

Figure 8: SASSO, Davide. c.2018. No title [digital image]. From Rumblerum [online]. Available from: https://www.rumblerum.com/artist-creates-awareness-regarding-colour-blindness-through-his-thought-provoking-photographs/ [accessed 24 February 2021].

Figure 9: SAKSENS, Ruta. 2020. A dog digging [digital image]. Private collection: Ruta Saksens.

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