Dog Day Afternoon
I love animals.
We have two sons, a dog and a cat, and quite honestly, my wife Amy and I treat “the kids” like our third and fourth children. Bella and Cloud are our most Snap-Chatted topic! Spoiled, loved, fussed over; they are family.
I’m the guy that shamelessly asks every security dog handler if I can pet his dog.
I never gave much thought to the ‘dogs with papers’ breeds because to me Bella is someone you wrestle with and race up the stairs, and I've taught Cloud to 'come", and 'give paw' for a treat!
Going to a dog show never crossed my mind. It just did not interest me.
That of course is the wonder of being a photographer….once an assignment comes up, any topic becomes acutely interesting.
Assigned to shoot the Westminster Dog Show for SI on the Monday after the NBA All Star Weekend, I had three days to pick the brains of the local NY photographers about what to expect. Everyone had an opinion, but there was very little description of the structure, of what to expect visually. I got enough varied feedback that I didn’t know what I was in for, but I knew I did not want to recreate the formal portraits that ran in last year's Leading Off Section.
I was warned about the chaotic scene as the dogs were on their “benches.” I imagined formal pedestals, with static, proper dogs displaying themselves next to even more stoic handlers. I imagined the dogs untouchable and cold. I pitched an essay on their eyes, an available light look at the dogs’ faces in a less formal setting.
It took only a few steps into the bench area before I realized my preconception was wrong. So wrong.
Stretched out before me were…dogs.
Dogs surrounded by people that…loved dogs.
The benches were, well, anything that worked. A small table covered with a towel or a blanket…nothing formal at all. Some dogs perched on top of their crates surveying the crowd from above.
Most were eye level with the guests, being talked to or talked around. They sought their place in the silent conversation of glances.
The formal handlers I imagined weren’t stoic at all. Sure there were a few dressed to draw attention to themselves, bust most were indiscernible from the crowd. Their affection for the dogs was universal. All primping and preening was mixed with hugs and affection.
Beautifully manicured, (and sometimes ridiculously coiffed), the dogs were as mesmerized with the people as the people were with them. And incredibly enough…and fortunately for me….you could touch them. Everyone touched them! They rubbed behind their ears, under their chins….They licked you back, and pressed their heads into your body. They loved the attention!
The dogs that weren’t getting attention locked onto your gaze and would rise if they saw your slightest inclination to approach…and when you moved toward them, they would wriggle with excitement.
Cameras and cell phones were sure to draw their attention. If someone was taking their picture they would hold the pose, but they seemed more keen to make eye contact. If a cell phone picture was taking too long (they all do) they would look for a more engaging pair of eyes.
In the ninety minutes or so after the doors opened, the dogs preparing for show were out on their benches, alert and searching for a caring eye to connect with.
As their owners or stylists worked on them they seemed unaware of the ever-present leash and enjoyed the wash, or the blow dry. Their expressions were those of a child reveling in the caress of a parent.
However, like children at a wedding, the picture taking and attention eventually became tiresome, and they looked longingly to their handlers for help.
The kids were getting tired. They had been attentive for the guests but now they were exhausted. They had given all they had to give and the lounged in their handler’s arms, or against their lap.
Children with fur indeed.
All images shot with a Canon 1DX, Canon EF 70-200mm f2.8L USM.