The portfolio program at The Dylan Ellis Gallery allows photographers to house their work in an accessible space.
This series features Q&A’s with photographer currently participating in the program.
What made you start photographing dogs?
I first started photographing dogs after I got my first camera as a youngster. Our family dog “Haggis” was one of my earliest subjects. He was a cross Springer/Water Spaniel that we brought back to Canada from Australia in 1963. Haggis had been a farm dog that was put up for adoption at a stall run by the SPCA at a local country fair. My sister paid two shillings for him then, which was about 50 cents. Fast forward to 1972 and I entered the photography program at Ryerson Polytechnical Institute here in Toronto. Our instructors encouraged us to photograph and I found the family dog a willing subject. Haggis had passed away by then, so our family had taken in a couple of dogs from the Humane Society. “Smiles” and “Chuckles” were as active and energetic as their name suggests. Then came “Becky”, a beautiful Springer Spaniel and “Bandit” an adorable Yorkshire Terrier. Consequently, our family was no stranger to having dogs around the house. I ended up as a photographers assistant after Ryerson and was very busy during the work week. Week-ends were the time to do personal work, and I found myself doing a lot of street and event photography. It just seemed natural to photograph dogs, and I found them at fairs and dog shows or just in the neighbourhood. Though not taking as many dog photos as before, I still occasionally find the urge to continue what is possibly a life long assignment. There is certainly no shortage of willing and wonderful subjects.
Whats a funny story from one of your shoots?
There have been quite a few memorable moments while photographing dogs. Possibly the most fun have been the “Woofstock” dog shows put on by the Toronto Star newspaper. More for the “average” as opposed to the show/purebred dog they are an opportunity for the family dog to shine. Categories include “The best dressed dog” , “Dog with the longest tail”, and “Dog most like their owner”. These shows illustrate how much the dog has become an integral part of the family. The show with purebred dogs is another fascinating experience. While the “Family Dog” is given love and attention, the show dog is a different animal. There seems to be no limit to time and expense given to these dog equivalents of the superstar. It is fascinating to see the care and devotion that each owner has for their dog. This results in a bond of psychic dimensions. An example of this happened last week-end when I was out in the east end of Toronto. I happened to want a coffee so I stopped at the Tim Hortons on Queen St. In front of the store was a couple having coffee, surrounded by four beautiful and large dogs. The couple said it was O.K. to take photographs. I inquired as to the breed and they said “Bernese Mountain Dog”. They mentioned that I should have been down by the beach earlier as there were no less than 125 of the same breed there. Apparently they meet once a year at this time to connect with other Bernese Mountain Dog owners! Further investigation has revealed many websites devoted to just this one breed!!
Where do you want to go with this work?
The fact remains that I have barely scratched the surface on the relationship between dogs and humans. To reach a deeper understanding of this connection a further investigation is needed, some topics worth looking into might be : Dog Walkers/Handlers : What is the workday of a dog walker, perks and pitfalls. Dog Park : Varieties of dogs and owners, the social aspect of the dog community. Studio Portraits : Either dog alone or with owner, or possibly in the home setting. Vets : Check-ups, operations, dog health, euthanasia. Humane Society : dog inspections, staff experience, new owner procedure, dog cremation. Memorials : dog remembrances, graveyards. Police/ Customs : working dogs, dogs on the front lines. Guide/Therapy dogs : Guide dogs for the blind, therapy dogs for PTSD and prison inmates. Dog Breeders/Kennels : their passion for dogs, the business of breeding. These are just a few subjects that are worth investigating. A lot more work is required before taking the next step.