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Belgian photographer Vincent Lagrange dedicates his book about dogs to a one-eyed cat named Dwiezel.
Dwiezel was hanging out in the studio on Lagrange’s father, who was also a photographer. The boy started taking pictures of his cat butter when he was just 7 years old and recorded her life as she got older. She inspired him to want to take animal portraits.
For his new book “The Dogs: Human Animals” (teNeues Verlag) Lagrange spent more than a decade photographing 200 dogs. He met many of his subjects on the street with their owners and then took them to the studio for an extended, patient session.
Lagrange spoke to Treehugger about the tricks he uses to help dogs relax in front of the camera, how to find the perfect subjects, and how a cat started it all.
Treehugger: It’s interesting that your photographic muse was actually a cat. What is the story of Dwiezel?
Vincent Lagrange: I grew up with Dwiezel with my father and was our studio cat, when she got older her health deteriorated, so I started to document her more and this is where my love for wildlife photography began, the day she was no longer there it meant a lot to me and I didn’t want to photograph people. An animal has an honesty and sincerity that I value enormously.
What made you want to photograph so many dogs?
I wanted to create a collection that clearly portrays the human aspect of dogs, delving deeper into their souls and trying to bring a whole story into one look. It was a big challenge because no two models are alike, none of the animals in the book are real models, so I adapt a piece for each shot to get what I want.
You have photographed more than 200 dogs since the beginning of this project. Were certain dogs more demanding than others? Some were easier? More fun?
Sure, I’ve also done a few charity projects with animal shelters in order to be able to accommodate some animals more quickly, e.g. an Akita who has been behind bars for 8 years and can come out of the corner unexpectedly, but it has never failed me, I’ll take always my time, which is a very important element in this form of photography.
Some of the animals I photograph come in so you think this is going to be a difficult day, but these are easier animals sometimes, the hard part for me is in the setup and manual focus. The technique of my picture has to be right so that one is sucked in and confronted by the animal.
What are your tricks for getting a dog to look out for you and your camera? How do you measure a dog’s personality?
Time is very important, and you should always respect the animals and stop doing something if you don’t want something. For example, I always take photos in the studio with constant daylight so that the animals feel comfortable without having a flash in their eyes every time.
It is also important that everything is calm, because in many areas you only have one chance.
Where do you find your dog themes? Do you sometimes stop dogs in the street because you find them so interesting?
I scout them from the street and people ask me too, of course, but my personal preference is atypical, for example I met Jack in an old brown pub, where he was always lying under the chair, after his admission Jack is the king of the pub and go there often. I enjoy such little things!
Have you ever been so frustrated that you decided to give up dogs and move on to other subjects? What made you change your mind?
Noah, one of my favorite photos by the way, had to come a couple of times. This dog was rescued in Spain, but was very scared and crawled under the decors every time. I don’t push the animals, I try to focus on our bond. In the end it worked. The result was magical for me! It couldn’t be more human!
If you weren’t photographing dogs what would you do?
Live among the animals in the shelter and enjoy the little things in life. Because nowadays everything has to happen too quickly. I really enjoy the rest!