There are currently 151,000,000 photos on Instagram tagged #Dog which is 14,000,000 more than those tagged #Cat. The enormous number shouldn’t surprise us. We’ve been obsessively depicting our dogs since prehistoric times, when we painted them on walls, carved them in ivory and buried them with bones and blankets for the afterlife.
A Dog a Day is one of two marvellous new books that feed this atavistic devotion. A handsome collection of Sally Muir’s dog portraiture, it demonstrates the artist’s technical range and her keen understanding of essential doggishness. The images are deft sketches that capture the particular hang of a hound’s head, the Mikado-sticks jumble of lurcher legs or the crazy glint in a spaniel’s eye. Muir’s mastery of the expressive capacity of the canine eye in particular makes these paintings live and pant.
Really Good Dog Photography is just what it claims to be, a gorgeous compendium of work from 28 photographers that presents its subjects from some unusual angles. Among the Magnum classics, lissom portraits and surreal dog-show shots runs a sadder trail of betrayal and abandonment. Martin Usborne’s series on the tragic fate of Spanish hunting Galgos ties in with others’ work on feral and shelter dogs. Afforded due dignity by the photographers, these abandoned and abused creatures radiate a certain nobility.
Less decorous but comic and surprisingly interesting is Tim Edgar’s record of the inadvertent, Pollock-esque artistry of dog piss on the streets. The most poignant chapter, though, shows Charlotte Dumas’s portraits of elderly retrievers who, as young rescue dogs, had each searched the rubble of Ground Zero. There were nearly 100 such dogs on the site, providing emotional comfort as well as searching, in vain as it turned out, for survivors. ‘They gave consolation,’ Dumas explains. Dogs always do.