Dog Fancy

Richard Avedon, [Contact sheet of Marilyn Monroe posing with dog], 1958

Elliott Erwitt, Paris, 1951

Elliott Erwitt, Man and Dog, South Carolina, 1962

Weegee, [Smokey, covered with a rubber coat and sheltered by a bystander’s umbrella, waiting for water tower to be shut off], December 20, 1942

William Wegman, Lee Street Pond, 1981

Have you ever walked down the street and noticed the uncanny similarities between a dog and its owner?

According to Darwinian theory, pets emulate the same instincts and responses that have evolved to facilitate human relationships. Building upon this theory, a recent study from the Department of Ethnology at Eötvös Loránd University has proven that dogs have mimicking abilities, which historically has only been seen in apes. Unlike apes, dogs are genetically unrelated to humans but have coexisted with us for thousands of years. This shared environment, combined with the ability to mimic, has insinuated domesticated dogs into human society.

It seems that the complex mimicking ability of dogs has been visually provoked long before this recent study when considered within the history of photography. Renowned photographers have attempted to delineate the human-dog relationship through moments that fracture the natural change of dominance of owner-pet.

This is demonstrated through humor with Elliott Erwitt’s image of a dog in the front seat of a car. At first glance, the photograph could be considered nothing more than a source of entertainment. But it provokes a metaphoric illustration of dogs within the family structure, either as a protected child or a male dominant figure. For example, the child stays in the car where it is warm while the parent runs into the store. On the other hand, the male, who is the presumed capable driver in inclement weather, waits in the while the female does the errand. The two theories could be easily interchangeable within the context of the photograph.

Whether humorous, ironic, or erotic, these photographs provocatively demonstrate the dynamic dog-human relationship. Through the representation of dog’s societal inclusion and acceptations, these images assimilate physical and emotional likeness between the species of dog and human.

Michi Jigarjian, ICP-Bard MFA 2012

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