Ruta Saksens Kalmane
VISIONS TO BE WRITTEN
Updated: Mar 3
Whatever we, the humanity, do today, will influence our tomorrow. The same rule applies to photography. The decisions we make right now will leave some effect on the future.
The ongoing Human-Canine Bond (HCB) project involves two different methods of obtaining images – analogue and digital. Both of these methods are to some extent environmentally unfriendly, thus leaving negative environmental effects on the planet. It’s not that everyone should throw their digital cameras away and suddenly become cameraless photographers, but everyone should absolutely think about how their practice could be more sustainable and what they can do to minimize the impact of photography on environment. According to the European Comission, this planet due to human action is currently experiencing rapid changes in climate because of increased levels of carbon and greenhouse gases. If no action is taken to mitigate the environmental impact, the consequences might be severe for all living organisms of this planet. European Comission has declared that ‘to stop climate change from getting worse, we must take action to cut greenhouse gas emissions significantly and adapt to the changes happening now and in the future to limit the damage’.
I have chosen to use analogue disposal cameras that contain only 36 shots. The choice of using a disposal camera is for the reason that people are very used to the use of their smartphones, taking dozens of photographic images without careful consideration what is it that they want to photograph, often having more than one photograph of the same kind. This kind of photographic practice is actually not sustainable in the long run. Smartphones tend to get overloaded with images, they start working slower and eventually a user replaces it for a newer one that works much faster. The lifetime of a smartphone or any other digital camera device can be prolonged if the user pays attention to the amount of data that ends up in the device’s memory. Furthermore, I use Agfaphoto LeBox disposal cameras that are being reused/recycled when given to a photo lab. A disposal camera is brought to a photo lab with the film still in it, and the body parts of the camera are not returned by the lab, but recycled instead. Other cameras that I use for this project are digital, one of them being a second hand NIKON DSLR camera coming from a company that is aware of the environmental impacts of their business. The other camera is a small digital pet collar camera. It’s not designed to give incredibly sharp images, it’s actually quite a simple camera with two functions – recording images and videos. It’s certainly not more environmentally friendly than other digital devices, but having this camera is an essential part of the HCB project.
Apart from the environmental effects that the HCB project leaves on the planet, one must look also at other effects that arise from this project, such as the results of the participation. As my research questions are about whether photography can help to enhance the relationship between dogs and their owners and can photography help the owners to understand dogs, one should consider the overall benefit of the research. There is an increasing tendency to adopt a dog in the Netherlands. According to the website Dibevo (2021), the number of adopted dogs in 2020 in comparison to 2019 grew by 200 000, from 1,7 million to 1,9 million adopted dogs in just one year. However, this is not the only disturbing number - also the number of dogs being brought to dog shelters is alarming. According to Marijne Beijen (2021), DOA, an animal shelter located in Amsterdam, has reported that pets this year are being brought to the animal shelter on daily basis and dogs particularly on weekly basis. Beijen reports that coming out of the lockdown and behavioural issues are one of the most frequent reasons why dogs are being brought to the DOA shelter. When the adopted puppies reach the age of dog puberty, some people are unable to control them and thus they are given away. The other popular reason is the unwillingness to take care of the animal now when the lockdown is over and people are going back to offices, and travelling is possible again. I aim with my project to help people understand their beloved dogs and to strengthen the bond between dogs and their owners through representing the dogs for what they really are, not how Hollywood frequently represents them, creating false assumptions about the level of dog intelligence.
The massive advertising of humanization of dogs can influence people’s choice of adopting a dog. Since the development of 20th century mass media, cinema, photography and the digital environment, dogs are frequently being humanized. They are dressed up in human clothes, given human accessories and often given the ability to speak in movies (e.g. Beverly Hills Chihuahua (2008)) and animated series (e.g. Family Guy) that are intended for adult audience.
Fig. 1: Disney UK 2018. Beverly Hills Chihuahua Full Trailer [Movie Trailer]
Even in fine art one can come across athropomorphism. The photographer’s William Wegman’s series Being Human is a good example of that. He dresses up his own dogs in human clothes in an attempt for the dog to look like a human. Another photographer who practices humanization of dogs is Sebastian Magnani who represents dogs as as grown up human adults.
Fig. 2: Wegman 2020. Being Human exhibition poster [digital exhibition poster]
Fig. 3: Magnani 2013. Drava [digital photographic image]
Being surrounded with notion of a humanized dog, our minds are injected with a belief that if we take a puppy home, it will grow up and be just as smart as Lassie or Rin Tin Tin in the famous Hollywood movies.
‘We need to move beyond the belief that, like Lassie and Timmy on television, a nice person and a good dog just naturally get along, and are able to understand each other just because they love each other so much.’ (Patricia McConnell, 2007: 228)
However, without a proper training, time investment and making an effort to understand and learn about dog behaviour nobody will have a dog like Lassie. McConnell (2007: 226) emphasizes that ‘It shouldn’t be surprising that miscommunication is so common – look at how often it happens with our own species. And here we are trying to communicate with individuals of a whole other species. No wonder we have trouble.’
The HCB research project aims to take a step back and look at the lives of dogs and the relationship with their owners for what they really are and represent them accordingly. The relationship with a dog will never be perfect, therefore my intention is not to achieve aesthetical perfection in the photographic representation of dogs. I am more interested to show daily engagement with the animal as it is.
Fig. 4. Dekker 2021. A shot of Colby from a disposal camera [digital scan]
Therefore, when it comes to familiar narratives in dog photography, the photomontages of the HCB series don’t fit the usual commercial frame of good looking, perfectly posed dog photography. Although there are some elements that do fit into this frame, like the background images on top of which other images are placed, the photomontages contain a lot of photographic images that can seem to some viewers quite useless, aesthetically ugly, technically wrongly exposed, etc. But it is exactly this aspect of the photomontage that should make it stand out, not the aesthetically pleasing background image.
Fig. 5: Saksens 2021. Buraz: patience, cuddles, kisses [photomontage]
Furthermore, a lot of what is seen in the photomontages makes little or no sense to an average viewer. However, it makes a lot of sense to the dog owner in question. When looking at other people’s legs, ceiling lamps and random everyday objects, one can lose the interest looking at the specific photomontage, but all these little details do make the involved participant to (re)evaluate his or her everyday objects and details around the areas where their dog is walking, as well as to see the relationship between himself and the dog for what it truly is: a sequence of imperfect moments and silly movements, as well as intimate and sincere moments of affection and love, which is ultimately what the project aims to achieve – a strengthened bond between the two entities.
Fig. 6: Saksens 2021.The story of Colby [audible photomontage]
It would be reasonable to ask at this point what’s the life expectancy of the photographic outcome. There is no single answer to this. I suppose the photographic images in the hands of the participants will survive as long as the love for the particular dog is there. Some people might cherish these images as long as they live, keeping them in memory of their once owned dogs. The viewers who are not involved with the dog seen in a photographic image, might forget about the image three seconds after seeing it. I guess it is quite difficult to predict the life expectancy of any photographic image, especially at its early stage of infancy. What would bring me a true joy, is not a photograph being rescued from the destiny of being forgotten, but rather a dog being saved from a destiny of being neglected. We should ultimately pay attention to what matters. And a dog’s life matters. Of course, so does photography. One can only hope to run the both practices on a happy and positive note.
LIST OF REFERENCES
BEIJEN, Marijne. 2021. Amsterdams asiel krijgt dagelijks ‘coronahuisdieren’ terug. Available at: https://www.parool.nl/amsterdam/amsterdams-asiel-krijgt-dagelijks-coronahuisdieren-terug~bae3234b/?referrer=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.nl%2F [accessed 2 July 2021].
DIBEVO. 2021. Coronacrisis zorgt voor piek in huisdierbezit. Dibevo [online]. Available at: https://dibevo.nl/pers/coronacrisis-zorgt-voor-piek-in-huisdierbezit [accessed 6 April 2021].
EUROPEAN COMISSION. (Not dated). Climate change and you. European Comission [online]. Available at: https://ec.europa.eu/clima/citizens/eu_en [accessed 2 July 2021].
MCCONNELL, Patricia B. 2007. For the Love of a Dog: Understanding Emotion in You and Your Best Friend. New York: Ballantine Books.
LIST OF FIGURES
Figure 1: DISNEY UK. 2018. Beverly Hills Chihuahua Full Trailer [Movie Trailer]. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sXvSEVO1Heo [accessed 16 June 2021].
Figure 2: WEGMAN, William. 2020. Being Human exhibition poster [digital exhibition poster]. Available at: https://williamwegman.com/exhibitions/ [accessed 2 July 2021].
Figure 3: MAGNANI, Sebastian. 2013. Drava [digital photographic image]. Available at: https://www.sebastianmagnani.com/underdogs/63863rvpt5oq6q32jwsqc4hayrzdwg [accessed 2 July 2021].
Figure 4: DEKKER, Lia. 2021. A shot of Colby from a disposal camera [digital scan]. Private collection: Ruta Saksens
Figure 5: SAKSENS, Ruta. 2021. Buraz: patience, cuddles, kisses [photomontage]. Private collection: Ruta Saksens.
Figure 6: SAKSENS, Ruta. 2021. The story of Colby [audible photomontage]. Private collection: Ruta Saksens.