The Dog I've Always Wanted

Canine Behavior, Training and Photography

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Dogs (collected by Catherine Johnson, words by William Wegman)

May 6th, 2008 · · Book Reviews

What Catherine Johnson has collected is a wide assortment of amateur photos of dogs. There are a few studio portraits but for the most part these are homemade images. Some of these photos date back to the early 20th century or even perhaps a little earlier. The bulk of them appear, judging by the clothing and hair styles of the accompanying humans, to date from the 1940′s and ’50′s. This era marked the first flush of widespread amateur photography. The book is sprinkled with quotations on the subject of dogs and the human dog relationship. They tend to be of a decidedly folksy flavour. One of my favourites is a remark made by Woodrow Wilson: “If a dog will not come to after having looked you in the face, you should go home and examine your conscience.”

It is very entertaining to speculate on the miriad questions posed by each of these photos. Who were these people? How much can you tell about the relationship between the dogs and humans who share the frame?
How did they come to be together to be immortalized by the camera? Plenty of material for imaginative wonderings. It actually occurred to me on first flipping through this book that each photograph could generate at least a short story and a few might provide the starting point for a novel.

And what of the dogs themselves? What kind of existence did they lead beyond this one frozen moment? They certainly weren’t attending doggie day , they may have been subsisting on table scraps (!), perhaps they were not vaccinated, and who knows, it is even possible that they lived in the backyard. Our relationship with and attitude to dogs has undergone some fairly dramatic changes in the past sixty or seventy years. This book opens up opportunities to reflect on some of those changes and to dream of all that is not there but can be imagined.

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