Monday, November 12, 2007


As I was walking through the Park this morning on the way to work, I was thinking again about William Wegman's famous Weimaraner photos, and wondering why they trouble me. They feel vaguely exploitive, and disrepectful to the very dogs they celebrate. Sort of like what we did to natives and aborigines, when the European explorers brought them back to Europe, and dressed them up in formal clothes and showed them off, remarking how much manners they could be taught.

As I approached the bridge a dogwalker came out of the trees, accompanied by a Weimaraner! What coincidence. And an ally, I thought, who doubtless would confirm my opinions on the matter.

I said, point blank, "What do you think of Wegman's photos?"

She said, "I like them."

Drat. Oh dear.

I walked on, a little chastened in my self-righteousness.

But what is it that troubles me? There's nothing wrong with children dressing up their pets. We did it too. At the other end of the continuum is The Island of Doctor Moreau. It's a very broad continuum, and I don't dispute that Wegman is way over toward Dick, Jane, and Sally.

One of the most remarkable things about dogs is how "plastic" they are as a species. Much more than cats, for example. For some strange genetic reason, we can breed them into such distinct varieties (fr0m Chihuahuas to St. Bernards) that a visiting Martian, at first glance, would have to assume they're different species.

If we humans have done this to them generally, then what's wrong with what Wegman does?

And I know firsthand he treats them royally. I have a friend who is an assistant in that studio, and whose hands I have recognized sticking forward out of sleeves. Those dogs are loved. And they seem to enjoy their work.

I can't quite put my finger on it. And I'm not going to say it's immoral, or even wrong. But isn't there anyone else who finds it disrespectful to the very dogs that are being celebrated?


Kate said...

I've just taken a look at some of his photos online. I didn't really like them. It seems silly, like something a child would do. Aren't adults supposed to "put away childish things"?

Now you've gotten me interested in reading this H.G. Wells book. There's an audiobook version available here for anyone else who'd like to read it:

From My Heart said...

It is funny, the pictures are just funny. Not art. Not like dressing up native peoples. Dogs don't mind, they like the attention. It is not the same as people – one would assume that it is terribly harmful to a human to be so used.

Personally I don't like the dress up ones, but the Puppies book is great and his earlier videos in the 70s were more interesting.

At this point he does it for the money I am sure and for his audience. He does make a lot of money doing this, perhaps that disturbs more?

It is not the worst way to make a living and I am sure it makes some people very happy to see the pictures.

In peace, Jane

Anonymous said...

I have a Weimaraner, and I am a photographer. I love his photos. There is something eerily human about a Weimaraners face when you stare into it for a few minutes, they hae a million expressions. My weim would never sit still long enough for me to dress her up, otherwise I would try it. But she is amazing to photograph