William Wegman, Dog Walker, 1990
As explorations of the similarity between dog and owner go, Arnatt’s Walking the Dogs is all well and good but the definitive answer is offered, not even a little bit seriously, by some of William Wegman’s pictures. Of all Wegman’s dog pictures – and there are many and they involve some serious posing by the dogs who are both photogenic and apparently very amenable to a bit of dressing up and acting – I think it’s the dog walker ones that make me laugh the most; this is a simple idea, faultlessly realised.
The beauty of Wegman’s work is that it feels like a collaborative practice with his dogs – first Man Ray, then Fay Ray and her off-spring – as partners in picture-making.
Though it was the dog walker pictures that put me in mind of Wegman having just written about Keith Arnatt’s Walking the Dog, I’ve been amusing myself by imagining how Fay Ray (if it is she, I certainly can’t tell Wegman’s dogs apart) in her Furrious guise would look with the woman in the white coat in that Arnatt picture.
for Max Mara campaign, 2001
Wegman’s dogs aren’t just his collaborators in making art though, on occasion they are also fashion models; as Wegman says “gray goes with everything”, so they are ideally placed to show off iconic garments like Max Mara’s double breasted camel coat, easily outclassing the woman in the white coat in the Arnatt picture. The expression on Fay Ray’s face here – serious, almost mournful and hard not to read as human – is what makes the picture for me.
Red Toy, 2006
Unsurprisingly, a lot of what I enjoy about Wegman’s work is the comedy of the pictures. In this respect the expression on the dogs faces is important. For all their mournfulness, they look – to me, a least, and I fully admit to knowing nothing at all about dogs – like they’re concentrating; the seriousness is focus not unhappiness. And some images, like Spring – with a bare minimum of props – are just really rather beautiful.