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Tag: portraits

More stunning dog photography

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A Moscow-based husband-and-wife photography team has released another series of dog portraits, and it’s just as spectacular as the first.

Alexander Khokhlov and Veronica Ershova have been a team for years — he taking the pictures, she doing the post-production work — but it was only last year that they turned their attention to dogs.

Intended to visually “explore the wonderful world of our four-legged friends,” The Dog Show, Season 2 continues to showcase dogs in photos that show them in expressive poses that highlight their individual spirit.

This year’s subjects include a Bedlington terrier, a pug, a weimaraner, a Basenji (above), and pictured below, this Australian shepherd.

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This Newfoundland, bloodhound, and trio of xolos were equally striking.

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Khokhlov was born in Calcutta, India. He is now based in Moscow and works as a commercial photographer in creative duo with designer and retouching expert Ershova.

Alexander’s works and interviews are featured in world mass media including CNN, Town & Country, PDN Magazine, Scientific American MIND, Professional Photographer, Talk Magazine, Huffington Post, The Daily Mail, Wired, Holland Herald, Stern, 20 minutos, Quotation, Life magazine, Petapixel.com, Phlearn.com and others.

You can see a much wider selection at mymodernmet.com, and even more at alexanderkhokhlov.com.

Are there too many dogs on the Internet?

image001Depictions of dogs, as any one who has ever read the wall of a prehistoric cave knows, date back to well before ancient times.

Pharaohs commissioned artworks of their favorite pets. Portrayals of hunting and images of medieval banquets often featured dogs in the background or foreground. In the Victorian-era, aristocrats hired painters to make portraits of themselves and their pooches.

As the 20th Century dawned, as humans came to live ever closer to the species, artists seized upon the idea of depicting dogs dressed in human attire and doing human things, bringing us such classes artworks as the inimitable (but often imitated) work, Dogs Playing Poker.

Well before photography went digital, before somebody flicked that World Wide Web switch on, dog depictions were being shared — if not as instantly, often, ridiculously and (often) demaningly as they are today on the Internet, and social media in particular.

Even in my earliest days in journalism, back in the 1970’s, I remember some newspapers had a pet writer — someone who penned a pet column, usually weekly. He or she was commonly an older person who performed mostly clerical duties, maybe a secretary for some top editor, who, due to his or her love for dogs, had volunteered for the task, likely at no increase in pay.

He or she would probably feature a dog in need of adoption every week, or write about pet care and training, or simply ask readers to submit photos of their pets for publication — an opportunity many readers seized, sending actual photos through actual mail.

One of the differences between then and now — a time when many a website is telling you how much they would like to see photos of your dog — is that the old clerk/pet writer’s request for photos was more than likely at least partly sincere.

pokerThose folks who want to see your dog’s photo now? Almost always, they are after something else. You can trust them about as much as the bulldog sneaking an ace to his friend in that painting to the left there.

Pet food websites, pet toy websites, even (we hate to admit it) pet news websites will commonly beg you for a photo of your pooch — not because anyone actually wants to see it, but because they want to get you on their email lists, get you “registered,” introduce you to their products and enlist your loyalty.

They want, more than anything, your money, and like many other businesses that want your money, they will gladly deceive you and try to capitalize on your love for/pride in your pet:

“We’d love to see a photo of your dog!”

Yeah, right.

I’m not here today to say that there are too many dogs on the Internet — even if never before in the history of man have we been so saturated with dog photos and images. The more the merrier, I say.

But I would argue there is too much dog exploitation and too much dog ridicule on the Internet, much of it carried out via those “adorable” photos of your “fur baby” — sometimes by profit-making concerns, sometimes by dog owners themselves.

Compare and contrast, if you will, our old, likely unpaid, pet columnist with someone like Matt Nelson, who is making a six figure annual salary by posting photos sent in by readers, along with a comment and a numerical rating (based on the dog, not the photo) at @dog_rates.

He is not taking any photos. He is not buying any photos. He’s really not doing much work at all, other than accumulating followers. He is merely sharing other people’s photos on Twitter — and managing to make a handsome living from it.

Nelson — profiled by Money magazine recently — dropped out of college once he saw how popular his dog photo sharing Twitter page had become:

There, WeRateDogs’ operations are relatively simple. Nelson estimates he runs 95 percent of things from his iPhone (which, yes, he confirms, does require a massive data plan to handle all the dog photos). He has two remote employees: Ricci, who culls submissions down to about 20 each day, and Tyler Macke, who manages the WeRateDogs online store. His dad, an executive director of a law firm, advises him on finances.

Nelson says he brings in “a low five figures” every month. At minimum, that puts him over $100,000 a year.

Thanks, Money magazine, for doing the math for us.

While Nelson may not be doing much original or creative work, at least his pursuit is mostly cute and kind and well meaning.

20151016_181413-e1522168748576Other dog photo sharing websites are more distasteful to me — dogshaming.com, in particular.

It features photos of dogs who have misbehaved, along with hand-made signs — all submitted by readers.

But perhaps most troubling of all are the photos and videos that individuals post to their Facebook page showing their dogs doing distinctly human things.

Alexandra Horowitz, the author and researcher who has spent her career seriously studying and trying to understand dogs — despite what seems to be society’s preference to see them as dress-up dolls, movie characters with human voices, or (apologies to those who use the term) “fur babies” — made note of the phenomena in last week’s New York Times Opinion section.

In it, she asked the question:

“Why can’t I stand to look at one more photo of a ‘funny dog?'”

She continued, “In a typical image, the dog is posed in a distinctly person-like way, as if on the phone, seated at a table or wearing headphones and dressed up in human attire — glasses, a dog-size suit and tie, even pantyhose.”

” … These dogs are but furry emoji: stand ins for emotions and sentiment. Each representation diminishes this complex, impressive creature to an object of our most banal imagination,” Horowitz wrote. “Such treatment may not be mortifying to the dog, perhaps … but it is degrading to the species.”

Only the most extreme examples of making our dogs look ridiculous receive any sort of backlash — primarily from people who see the pet as being abused. Like this one on Twitter. Go to the link and read all the comments and you almost think, maybe people are coming to their senses.

It bugs me that society is this way — that it took a species, molded it to its liking, and continually foists its own likeness and peculiarities upon it. It bugs me what people will put their dog through to achieve a Facebook post or Halloween costume that makes their friends laugh. It bothers me that some people are getting rich off it.

It’s like we were blessed with an original Mona Lisa, and 85 percent of us want to draw a mustache on it slap it on their own personal billboard.

Somebody needs to grow up, and it’s not the dogs.

(Photos: At top, The Feast of Dives, about 1510–20, Master of James IV of Scotland, the J. Paul Getty Museum); lower, one of the many reproductions of Dogs Playing Poker, by Cassius Marcellus Coolidge, other photos via Twitter)

The story behind those Bangor bar hounds

"Bar Hounds," a mural by Constance Depler Coleman, at the New Waverly, a Bangor bar.

There’s an old school bar in Bangor, Maine, that has a dog mural on a wall that many have wondered about for decades, including the bar’s owners.

Where did the original version of it come from? They didn’t know. Why leave such a retro monstrosity on the wall? Because they love it.

The ten-foot mural features 12 dogs of various sizes and breeds, all dressed liked humans and standing around the bar. There’s a high-falutin’ cocker spaniel, a basset hound in a plaid sport coat, a professorial Boston terrier, a boxer elegantly attired in tails, and a Great Dane who appears to be hitting on the poodle on the stool next to him.

Jimmy Puiia, owner of the New Waverly, knew very little about the mural — except that he bought it at the old Sherwin-Williams on Central Street back in 1975, as a heavy piece of custom wallpaper to be installed on the wall.

That’s where it has been for 42 years, the Bangor Daily News reported last week. (The website will make non-subscribers answer a couple to get access to the story, but it’s worth the effort.)

Only three years ago did the family that owns the New Waverly — known among locals as “The Wave” — learn about the significance of their mural.

Here’s what happened:

Members of the Sohns family — many of them regulars at the New Waverly — were attending the NY Now Gift Fair in New York City in the summer of 2014, perusing the offerings of thousands of vendors, when they stumbled across what appeared to be some of those very same dogs.

“There was this giant cut out of the Great Dane (from the mural) right in the middle of the booth, and we all just kind of went ‘Holy crap! It’s the Wave dogs!,'” Amanda Sohns said.

The booth, as it turned out, was run by Amanda Coleman Voss, daughter of the original artist, Constance Depler Coleman, now 91 years old.

Depler Coleman is a pet portrait artist behind a series of works showing dogs in various human-type social setting, most of them created in the 1950s and 1960s. (But no, she’s not the artist behind the poker playing dogs.)

By the 1970s, bars across the country featured her work as part of their decor — printed on wallpaper murals. There were the Bar Hounds, the Hep Hounds, the Western Hounds and more, and they’d almost all end up the victim of upscaling and gentrification by the 2000s.

waverly022417 002.JPG“People redecorate bars. They update them,” Sohns said. “But not the Wave. It’s a time capsule.”

Sohns said she was told at the gift show that only about four of the murals remain displayed across the country.

“But there’s five, including the Wave,” she said. The Sohns family own the Rock & Art Shops in Bangor, Bar Harbor and Ellsworth.

Depler Coleman went on to more fame though, painting pet portraits for the rich and famous, including former President George W. Bush, and Oprah Winfrey.

In 2012, her daughter, Amanda Coleman Voss, started a business printing her mother’s retro art on items including glassware, posters, tote bags, and more.

The website OriginalDepler reports that Depler is still “creating, traveling, painting and enjoying cocktails with her friends.”

newwaverlyAt the New Waverly, a restaurant and bar that has been named one of the best dive bars in Maine, Puiia said the mural serves as a conversation-starter. Patrons like to decide which dog in the mural best represents their persona.

“I think people like to figure out which one they are, and which one other people are,” Puiia said. “People like to talk about it. It’s just been here for so long. It’s definitely a part of the bar.”

And, based on their recently-found knowledge, it’s even more worth preserving. “Who knew?” Jimmy Puiia, Anthony’s son, said. “Now I think we want to preserve it. Maybe put it behind plexiglass. I never knew it was so rare.”

(Photos: Bangor Daily News)

Dogs looking skeptical

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These dogs appear to share a common expression, something akin to what we humans might call skepticism.

But the German photographer who put together the collection of outtakes from photo sessions in her studio calls it, “Dogs questioning the photographer’s sanity.”

And who’s to say they aren’t?

Elke Vogelsang, also known as Wieselblitz, is a photographer of dogs who specializes in portraits — but not the kind of portraits dog owners traditionally look for.

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Instead, she likes to capture them mid-expression — even though she knows what we humans see in those expressions may not be what the dogs are expressing at all.

“I usually prefer the pictures, which don’t look like that one portrait the owner would hang on his wall. I like the outtakes, the bewildered, quirky expressions,” she said in a post on Bored Panda.

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What the photos she posted had in common, she said, is that “the dogs look like they think that the photographer lost her mind.”

“With my dog portraits I try to explore the different expressions and characters of dogs. It’s all about emotions and personality. I love the challenge to get funny, silly or sometimes even melancholic expressions.

“Of course, these are snapshots, a moment in time, captured in a fraction of a second. Often we have our own interpretation of those expressions. The dogs appear to be laughing or smiling or they look sad. Like all dog lovers I’m guilty of humanizing them. But yes, dogs do feel all emotions humans feel, too.”

For more information on Vogelsang and her photography, visit her website or Facebook page.

An Act of Dog: A memorial to the millions of shelter dogs put down in America


It’s easy to ignore statistics. They’re cold and dry and lack soulful eyes. And when the numbers are overwhelming — like the 5,500 unwanted dogs who are put to death daily in U.S. shelters — we tend, as a rule, to find life is more comfortable and less depressing when we don’t do the math.

Louisville artist Mark Barone is an exception to that rule. Rather than ignore the problem, he decided to put a face on it — 5,500 of them, in fact.

For two years now, he has been painting portraits of dogs who have been put down at shelters across the country, and he’s more than halfway to his goal: 5,500 portraits that he hopes will someday — unlike their subjects — find a forever home.

Barone and his partner, Marina Dervan, call the project “An Act of Dog.”

Their hope is the works will someday be displayed in a permanent memorial museum, which — between its emotional impact and the funds it would help raise for no-kill rescues and shelters — could help lead to their larger goal,  a no-kill nation.

Mark, a well-established artist, had moved to Santa Fe when, about three years ago, he lost his dog of 21 years, Santina.

“It was kind of a sad time, and I thought it would be therapeutic for Mark to go to the dog park,” Marina recalled. “I thought it would be helpful for him to get some dog love, and it was. It was really great. It got me in the mood to think about adopting another dog. Mark wasn’t at that stage, but it didn’t stop me from looking.”

Looking for adoptable dogs online and at local shelters, she quickly learned the sad reality that she says neither she nor Mark, up to then, were aware of — that millions of dogs in need of homes are put down at shelters every year.

“Instead of finding a dog, I found out all these horrifying statistics,” she said. She shared them with Mark, along with images and videos of dogs who had been, or were on the verge of, being put down.

He asked her to stop sharing, but she kept up.

“If we don’t look at it, nothing will change,” she said. “So he looked at it, as painful as it was, and day or two later, we were standing in the kitchen and he asked me the number of dogs killed everyday in the country … I gave him the number 5,500, based on statistics from Best Friends.”

It was then that the idea of honoring shelter dogs by painting 5,500 portraits of those who had been killed was born, and along with it, the longer term plan of a memorial museum, along the lines of the Vietnam Memorial and the Holocaust Museum.

First, they started looking for the studio space to get started on the task, mailing out inquiries in search of a city or town that might offer free space for him to paint.

Santa Fe wasn’t interested. Louisville was among about 30 places that were.

That’s where the couple lives now, and where Mark has completed about 3,200 of the portraits — some of them life- sized, some of them larger.

“It’s the big ones, 8 feet by 8 feet, that slow things down,” Mark said.

Only one of the 8×8-foot paintings depicts a dog who died a natural death — Mark’s dog, Santina. According to Marina, Santina will serve as the gatekeeper of the exhibit. Other large portraits feature  Batman, a 10-year-old pit bull who was left outside in 21 degree weather, and was found dead at a shelter the next morning, and Grant, who was deemed unadoptable due food bowl aggression and put down.

The large paintings — there will be 10 of them — will include the individual stories of those dogs, representing the most common reasons shelters give to put animals down.

“It’s pretty much the wall of shame,” Marina said.

Mark and Marina are still looking for a permanent place to house the works, and for sponsors and benefactors for the museum, and they have some promising leads, both in Louisville and around the country. In addition to being an educational center, the museum would also be an outlet for selling merchandise that features the images — shirts, cards, and other products. An Act of Dog, which is a nonprofit organization, would pass on all profits to no-kill facilities and rescue groups.

The dogs in the paintings come from shelters all around the country. Their photos are submitted by rescue groups, volunteers and shelter employees. They have all been put down.

Mark and Marina object to the use of the term “euthanized” when it’s applied to healthy animals. “Deliberately ending the life of a healthy and treatable pet is killing.  Deliberately ending the life of a medically hopeless and suffering pet is euthanasia,” Marina said. They don’t much like “put to sleep,” either.

“Semantics are a powerful way to keep people from the truth and our mission is to show reality without the candy wrapping,” she added.

Mark paints everyday, from sunrise to sunset. At night, he and Marina work on the An Act of Dog website. They’re both foregoing salaries at this point.

Mark has served as a consultant to cities interested in using the arts to revitalize blighted areas, among them Paducah, Kentucky, and its Paducah Artist Re-locaton Program. Marina worked 20 years coaching corporate executives.  

Now they’ve cashed in their retirement savings and are devoting full time to the project.

“We could turn away and pretend like we didn’t see what we saw, or we could do something about it,” she added. “If that means we have to live poor,  we’re OK with that, because we know we did something.”

They’re working now in studio space provided by the Mellwood Art Center in Louisville, where they did end up adopting a new dog, named Gigi, from a local shelter.

What drives the couple, though, are all the dogs who don’t get out alive — the thousands put down each day.

“The no-kill movement is making strides, but not fast enough,” said Mark who, on those days he doesn’t feel like painting, reminds himself of the bleak numbers, and the 5,500 reasons — every day — he must continue.

To learn more about An Act of Dog, and how to become a sponsor or benefactor, visit its Facebook page or the An Act of Dog website.

(Photos and video courtesy of An Act of Dog: At top, a collage of Mark’s paintings; Mark and Marina in their studio; some of the larger paintings, with Mark’s former dog, Santina, at left; and three shelter dogs dogs Breeze, Freckles and Sky)

The art, and heart, of the dog park

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There’s a beautiful story in today’s New York Times that should resonate with dog park frequenters everywhere.

We wrack our brains to remember the names of dogs we’ve met before, then wrack them even harder to try and remember the name of the owner, and once in a while we stumble, calling the owner by the dog’s name, or vice versa.

Dick Sebastian resolved he would not make those kind of mistakes at the small-dog run in New York City’s Washington Square Park after he became a regular there a few years ago, along with his wife Susie, and his dog, Kitty.

After a visit, Sebastian, 71 and a retired surgeon, would return home, draw illustrations of the dog’s he had met and label them with their names. Later, he started bringing his chart with him to the dog run, where new dog owners started asking if he’d include their dogs on his ever-expanding artwork.

That led to Sebastian attempting less cartoony, more serious portraiture, sketching some of the dogs he had come to know. He started with a pug named Sidney, and in less than a year, he had drawn and presented, as gifts, 50 dog portraits to their owners.

The dog park crowd appreciated Sebastian’s efforts. Said one, “The fact that someone would care enough that he’d want to draw what’s unique about your dog for you …”

Sebastian was appreciated as well for his kindness, and his interest not just in other people’s dogs, but the people themselves.

He’d become a fixture, but now he’s leaving.  Sebastian and his wife plan to move back to their native Ohio this month, so that Sebastian, who has Parkinson’s disease, can get easy access to care at a retirement home.

Times reporter Susan Dominus writes:

“New York is full of ad-hoc communities based on proximity and built up around mutual affection — walk into any watering hole at 7:30 p.m. — but they often have a live-and-let-live looseness to them. While parental oversight can stifle, en loco parentis oversight can be a rare, welcome comfort in the circles of urban life,”

 “For passionate dog people, the folks at the Washington Square Park dog run are also, it turns out, passionate people people, and there have been myriad parties scheduled in honor of Mr. and Mrs. Sebastian before they depart.”

It’s not the first time I’ve said it, and I’m not the first one to say it, but dogs — if they don’t just automatically make us better humans — certainly manage to open up the opportunities for us to be.

Dick Sebastian, it seems, recognized that — most artfully.

(Artwork: The small dogs of Washington Square Park, by Dick Sebastian)

Are things looking up for dog art?

Art (or more precisely, artists) can take a hit in hard economic times, but dog art — especially of the non-traditional variety — may be escaping the recession’s full impact. In fact, things might even be, like this dog, looking up.

Portraits of cats and dogs have long been a staple, but now “hipper, more affluent pet owners are commissioning more adventurous, less-kitschy portraits that can even find a home on gallery walls,” the Boston Globe reported this week.

“I enjoy trying to catch their personalities or a certain sense of dignity I believe animals have into their portraits,” said Jane O’Hara, who sells prints at www.janeohara.com and donates part of her proceeds to PETA. “It’s quite a thing these days. Pets are big business.”

O’Hara, whose “Dog Looking Up” (acrylic on wood block) is featured above, is one several artists taking part in “Best In Show: Artists and Their Dogs,” an exhibit at Boston’s Brickbottom Gallery.

O’Hara originally painted portraits of people, the article notes, but got tired of “the extra layer of trying to figure out how this person wanted to be seen or how they see themselves.” She’s been painting animals for six or seven years.

The article quotes Brian Henderson, editor of DogBoston.com, as saying many young couples are postponing having children, giving them more attention and disposable income to lavish on their dogs.

Speaking of dog artists, our friend (and designer of our website) Gil Jawetz — painter of dogs and other things — will be part of Talking Heads… Figuratively Speaking, an exhibit opening Saturday at Baltimore’s  Gallery 321, 321 Madison Street. The opening is from 7 to 9 p.m.

(Photo from janeohara.com)