• Ruta Kalmane Saksens

READING WEEK

Updated: Mar 9, 2021

During the reading week I looked at some specific books in relation to dog photography, as well as a book about well-known photographers of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Fig. 1: Saksens 2021. Reading Week [digital image]


The first book that I would like to mention is Raymond Merritt’s book ‘The Dog in Photography’. The book reflects on the inclusion of dogs in photographs by different photographers from 1839 to nowadays. It is not only a great source of inspiration due to the wide variety of dog photographs that are included, but it also provides a thorough overview of the history of photography along with the emancipation of dogs. Coincidentally, the emancipation of dogs happened at the same time as the invention of photography. Although ‘from the middle of the nineteenth century, both canis familiaris and camera obscura experienced rapid absorption into the very fabric of human life’ (Merritt 2018: 8), it was not until the latter part of the 19th century that photographers started to include dogs in their photographs. In the very beginning when photography was invented, photographers didn’t fancy animal presence in their work due to the technical restrictions.

‘Because of the slow response of light-sensitive materials in the 1840s, animals, particularly dogs, were not preferred subjects of photographers’ (Merritt 2018: 24).

Fig. 2: Hills & Saunders c.1870. Queen Victoria and Boz

[albumen print on carte de visite mount]


As the technical side of photography progressed, in the last quarter of the 19th century dogs started to appear in photographs, mostly posing alongside their owners like in this photograph of the Queen Victoria and her dog, but plenty of times being the main subjects themselves.

Fig. 3: Tournier 1863. No title [albumen print]


Already in the 19th century photographers took canine photographs from the dog’s point of view, lowering the camera to the eye level of dogs, emphasizing the importance of the dog rather than a human.


The included information in the book helps to understand why and when dogs started to be included in photographs and how this topic developed over a period of more than hundred years. As I include a Santa’s hat in my own photographs of dogs, I found Sophie Gamand’s photographs included in the book particularly interesting. Gamand is using flower arrangements to compliment dog portraits. The colour combinations seem well-thought through and the photographs have a quality of slightly resembling paintings.

Fig. 4: Gamand 2014. No title [chromogenic print]


The next two books I looked at are photobooks of Elliott Erwitt’s photographs. The book ‘Elliott Erwitt’s Dogs’ is a collection of dog photographs taken by Erwitt throughout his career as a photographer. The foreword is given by Peter Mayle and serves as an introduction to Erwitt’s work. Mayle gives the following reflection over the work of Erwitt:

‘What makes these photographs so special is that they allow us to see through the eyes of a man who has an uncanny affinity with his subject. But it’s more than that. He has the great photographer’s gift, the sixth sense that tells him when to be ready, when a perfect moment is just about to happen.’ (Mayle 2008: 2).

When looking at the collection of Erwitt’s dog photographers one cannot unnotice the humorous pattern throughout his work. The photographs are not only witty and funny, but also skilful and meaningful. The following photograph is an example of Erwitt’s taste of humour when capturing dog photographs – it seems like the human is the dog or maybe the dog is a human (that also reminds me of William Wegman’s series Being Human).

Fig. 5: Erwitt 2000. No title [unknown]


The other photobook that I looked at is ‘Elliott Erwitt: Photofile’. It is a collection of 74 Erwitt’s photographs taken in different places of the world. It’s more like a documentary representation, not specifically connected with dogs, however there are a few dog photographs to be found in it as well. The book contains an introduction written by Erwitt himself, and the introduction does help to understand his own attitude towards dogs in photographs and his bond with dogs, as well as it gives a brief overview of Erwitt’s biography. Erwitt has said the following words:

‘The dog pictures work on two levels. Dogs are simply funny when you catch them in certain situations, so some people like my pictures just because they like dogs. But dogs have human qualities, and I think my pictures have an antropomorphic appeal.’ (Erwitt 2007: 3)

For example, the book’s cover photograph is a good example of how antropomorphism (human like qualities attributed to non-human creatures)is achieved in Erwitt’s work – the dog is dressed up resembling a little four-legged human-dog.

Fig. 6: Erwitt 1974. No title [unknown]


The last book that I read this week is Ian Jeffrey’s book ‘How to Read a Photograph: Understanding, Interpreting and Enjoying the Great Photographers’. This book is not related to my area of dog photography, but I consider it to be a great source of biographical information of many well-known pioneer photographers. I can particularly point out the photographers André Kertész and Moriyama Daido who are mentioned in this book. I have previously seen Kertész's work in Merritt’s book about dog photography, but in Merritt’s book there was no direct information about Kertész himself, so it was quite interesting to read about him in Jeffrey’s book.

Fig. 7: Kertész 1928. Marché Aux Animaux [gelatin silver print]


This dog photograph that Kertész took show a human-canine bond. The age of both, the dog and the boy signify the sweet, innocent youth. Jeffrey has wrote the following about Kertész:

‘His early pictures, mostly on traditional Hungarian subjects, often feature individuals wrapped up in whatever it is that they are doing: feeding ducks, sweeping the street.’ (Jeffrey 2008: 135)

This could explain why Kertész took such a photograph with a boy holding a dog as dog photography was not what he was focused on. I also found it fascinating that Kertész had done some work for the famous Dutch artist Piet Mondrian as well. I have personally been a big fan of Mondrian’s work for years.

Fig. 8: Daido 1971. Stray Dog [unknown]


Moriyama Daido took many photographs of stray dogs in Japan. His dog photographs were published in a book 'Memories of a Dog'. Jeffrey says the following about Daido:

'Moriyama liked the temporary qualities of bases and their seediness, and he liked dogs, too. Japanese strays patrolled their areas and kept an eye on things, and in this respect they had a lot in common with photographers.' (Jeffrey 2008: 346)

Jeffrey’s thorough investigation of the many photographers and their biographies helps to understand the specific approaches of individual photographers and their relationship to other practitioners of the time.

Fig. 9: Saksens 2021. Future Reading


In overall, I am happy to have had some spare time to read these books. In the near future I plan to take a look also at such books as Lynda Birke's and Jo Hockenhull's book 'Crossing boundaries : investigating human-animal relationships', Charles Darwin’s book ‘The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals’ and Patricia McConnell’s book ‘For the Love of a Dog’. These books could help me to get in the right direction with my future research about canine emotions and facial expressions.


LIST OF REFERENCES


ERWITT, Elliott. 2007. Elliott Erwitt: Photofile. London: Thames & Hudson Ltd.

ERWITT, Elliott. 2008. Elliott Erwitt’s Dogs. Kempen: teNeues Media GmbH.

JEFFREY, Ian. 2008. How to Read a Photograph: Understanding, Interpreting and Enjoying the Great Photographers. The United Kingdom: Thames & Hudson Ltd.

MERRITT, Raymond. 2018. The Dog in Photography. Köln: TASCHEN GmbH.


LIST OF FIGURES


Figure 1: SAKSENS, Ruta. 2021. Reading Week [digital photographic image]. Private Collection: Ruta Saksens

Figure 2: HILLS & SAUNDERS. c.1870. Queen Victoria and Boz [albumen print on carte de visite mount]. From Raymond Merritt. 2018. ‘The Dog in Photography’ (p. 57). Köln: TASCHEN GmbH.

Figure 3: TOURNIER, Henry. 1863. No title [albumen print]. From Raymond Merritt. 2018. ‘The Dog in Photography’ (p. 52). Köln: TASCHEN GmbH.

Figure 4: GAMAND, Sophie. 2014. No title [chromogenic print]. From Raymond Merritt. 2018. ‘The Dog in Photography’ (p. 635). Köln: TASCHEN GmbH.

Figure 5: ERWITT, Elliott. 2000. No title [unknown]. From Elliott Erwitt. 2008. ‘Elliott Erwitt’s Dogs’ (p. 52). Kempen: teNeues Media GmbH.

Figure 6: ERWITT, Elliott 1974. No title [unknown]. From Elliott Erwitt. 2007. ‘Elliott Erwitt: Photofile’ (cover photograph). London: Thames & Hudson Ltd.

Figure 7: KERTÉSZ, André. 1928. Marché Aux Animaux [gelatin silver print]. From Raymond Merritt. 2018. ‘The Dog in Photography’ (p. 199). Köln: TASCHEN GmbH.

Figure 8: DAIDO, Moriyama. 1971. Stray Dog [unknown]. From Ian Jeffrey. 2008. 'How to Read a Photograph: Understanding, Interpreting and Enjoying the Great Photographers' (p. 347). The United Kingdom: Thames & Hudson Ltd.

Figure 9: SAKSENS, Ruta. 2021. Future Reading [digital photographic image]. Private Collection: Ruta Saksens.

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