By Henry Mitchell
Ron Martin's reflections on doggie pictures, inspired by a show to honour a late, great Weimeraner.
Virtually everyone has snapshots of close friends stashed away in photo albums or scrapbooks. But what is it that makes us fill our albums with shot after shot of a certain very special "friend"? What is it that endears a dog (but not just anydog) so closely to us for what may be all of our lives? So much so that an acquaintance of mine once told me that when her Labrador retriever died, she would have it - pardon the pronoun - stuffed and mounted on wheels so that she could tow it behind her wherever she went. So closely that I once watched a redneck farmer break down, weeping uncontrollably, as a veterinarian put his dog to sleep because he was just too old and hurt too much to go on. So closely that some owners refuse to part with their companions until the last possible moment, choosing instead to have their friend's infected leg amputated rather than having their comrade laid to rest ("Here, Tripod!" -Here, boy!").
So what is it about a poor dumb animal that allows it to become such an integral part of our lives? Perhaps it is because each animal can give so willingly the love, companionship, fidelity (and obedience?) that many of us long for but often find lacking in members of our own species. A dog just doesn't know any better.
Perhaps, also, it is because they reward so little affection and attention with so much love and loyalty that they easily become an extension of the master's self. We come to attribute human traits (although not too many or we will corrupt the thing) to each one and so each becomes a personal friend or family member, loved, respected, and unique from all the others (ask any veterinarian). Have you ever heard an owner refer to his dog by that owner's surname? Has the family dog ever sent you a Christmas present? Have you ever given your dog a Christmas bone or a "toy"? The birth of a puppy comes to be second only to the birth of a baby. The extension of master into dog consciousness even permeates our culture as comic strip, television and movie stars who come to be adored.
Certainly, William Wegman's Weimeraner, Man Ray, must have possessed those canine traits common of all members of his species, but Man Ray was truly exceptional. He raised the doggie picture from scorn and obscurity to new artistic heights, rivaling King, Rin Tin Tin and even Lassie.
Hence, his death has been commemorated with a photographic exhibition. Doggie pictures were resurrected from the obscurity and scorn of the portfolio buried deep in the closet and became, temporarily, "artsy" because they were nailed to a wall.
Photographs like those of a pit bull fight, of a mouth about to devour the camera lens, of dog and nude, and the carcass crucified on a barn door may startle us, but they also remind us of what we want of a dog. We want to view photographs of dogs as doggie pictures because we want toregard dogs as "doggies", just as we see them in the other extreme, in doggie "portraits", loyal and true blue.
But no amount of doggie pictures will ever serve to eulogize Man Ray because Man Ray was more that just a doggie. Man Ray was an artist.