Photographer Amanda Jones captures the all-American dog
Mixed-breed. Mongrel. Heinz-57. All-American. Mutt. Would a dog by any other name smile as sweet? You may be surprised to know that the most popular, or, shall I say, most prevalent type of dog is now a mixed-breed. There are more mutts in American homes than any single breed—more than Labs, Golden Retrievers and Yorkies (who rank two, three and four, respectively). That’s saying something.
In Amanda Jones’ new book, A Breed Apart: A Celebration of the New American Mutt, she employs her fine artistry to capturing all that we admire about these true one-of-kind dogs. Couture originals each and every one! Let those purists have their papered pups—give me a “breed apart” anytime!
As a lifelong devotee of mutts, I completely understand America’s current fascination. What better candidate could there be for first-place honors in a country that proudly claims to be the world’s melting pot? For going on 10 years now, my job has allowed me to meet wonderful dogs, many of them of “uncertain parentage.” Where do I start to sing their praises?
If every dog has its day, let’s hope that it’s the mutt’s turn now. Even though all dogs originally came from mixed-breed stock eons ago, mutts have played second fiddle to their more high-bred brethren for too long now! The idiosyncratic charms of the dogs in this book speak volumes for the love they share with their humans. With so many exceptional dogs, of all sizes and shapes, awaiting adoptions at local shelters—how can one pass over their uniqueness while also knowing that you saved the life of a dog that was “made” just for you!
Alex Katz, known for his bold, hard-edged figurative paintings and prints, is one of the most recognized and celebrated artists of his generation. In the late 1950s and early ’60s, Katz ushered in a new approach to portraiture, helping define the American Pop Art sensibility. In his work, Katz depicts family, friends and most often, his wife and muse, Ada, as well as the Maine landscape where he spends his summers. In one of his best-known works, he portrays Sunny, the Katz family dog, chest-high in coastal grasses. Katz’s art is noted for its cool detachment and seductive elegance—walking a tightrope between traditional figuration and pure abstraction. This spring (2012), the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, presents Alex Katz Prints, a major retrospective of prints by Katz from the 1960s to the present. On view will be some 125 works—prints, unique and editioned cutouts on aluminum and illustrated books. Plus, Sunny.
Robert Clarke studied at the St. Martins School of Art in London. A skilled draftsman and visual artist, his drawings and paintings of dogs have garnered praise from both sides of the Atlantic. His A–Z series of canine portraits culled from London and New York residents—represent a dog for each letter of the alphabet.
My London A–Z exhibit was British breeds, mainly—dogs you can walk on the heath (with a few exceptions like X for Xolo and Z for Zuchon). The New York A–Z show were smaller breeds—Bostons, Chihuahuas, Pugs, the urban dog. They are each their own dog, with an individual personality. These wonderful creatures need to be loved. I love to paint them … all of them.
Yes, I was attacked by a dog when I was two, and never really got over the fear until I decided to get a Jack Russell puppy. I went to a puppy club—we handled all sorts of dogs, letting them mouth us, touching their paws, really trying to bond with them. That was when I got over my fear. Then with the onset of the dog paintings, I met dogs of so many different breeds—and they were all wonderful in their own right. I feel comfortable now.
I try to capture the essence of the dog. When I meet the dog, I gauge her playfulness and her attitude, but I also sometimes work from assorted photos without seeing the dog in person. Each dog has a different personality; I try to capture that in paint. For example, some dogs are in need of exactitude (Jack Russells, Chihuahuas). The smaller dogs generally are portrayed more closely, while the larger, hairier dogs are more abstract (Wheatens, Cockapoos).
I have a canvas ready and sift through the images I’ve got on hand. I get a sense of color and feel from the picture, and paint the dog. Sometimes it all comes together like magic; other times, it’s the smallest detail like adding a dot to the eye that makes the dog spring from the canvas.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Photographer takes pictures of shelter dogs before they're put to sleep
A photographer in Taiwan is on a mission to get people to take a serious look at the way animals are treated in his country. Tou Yun-fei takes photos of dogs at the Taoyuan Animal Shelter in the moments before they are euthanized. In the last two years, he's captured the images of 400 dogs.
Activists say that 70 percent of dogs in Taiwanese shelters are killed after the 12-day waiting period. Tou began his project because he didn't think the media was giving enough attention to the problem and felt that too many people considered these animals disposable.
After Tou photographs the dogs, vet techs take them for a last walk in a grassy courtyard, then lead them into a small room where they are euthanized.
Some of his friends refuse to look at the photos, and I can certainly see why. The pictures are haunting. They look like the kind of portrait that a dog lover would commission of their beloved pet. But then you realize that these dogs were not saved in time and have already been put to sleep.
The project is heartbreaking, if a little morbid, but an important one. I've met photographers who take striking photos of homeless pets in the hopes of catching the eye of a potential adopter, but Tou's project hopes to be much bigger and change the way people view and treat these animals.
It's not easy to inspire cultural change, but Tou's photographs might just be the project to spark conversation and force people to rethink longstanding beliefs.
A selection of Tou's photos will be exhibited in his first full scale show in August at the Fine Arts Museum in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. For those not in the area, you can view his work online.
Home Works: Best picks of domestic design
“They live in their hometown”
This eyecatching and inventive clock by Korean designer, Dongjin Byeon, does not employ numbers and hands to show time, instead, the figures of an elderly woman, her granddaughter and a fast-moving, dog represent hours, minutes and seconds respectively.
The figures move through the scenes of daily life that are arranged around the circumference to indicate hours. For example, when the grandmother sits on a bench, it is about 7:00 am/pm with the assumption that she would take a rest on a bench looking at the sunrise/sunset. According to Byeon, his clock also “suggests the daily patterns of our lives but it also implies our aspiration for a simple life."
Pictures in an Exhibition
Max Miller is known for abstract paintings that embrace color and line, as well as figurative works with human and animal subjects; dogs are among his favorites. On occasion, he employs both genres in a hybrid style perhaps best described as canine psychedelia. These oils and watercolors explode with color and shimmer with richly decorated backgrounds—it’s as though the dogs have leaped into the paintings and turned to gaze back at us, inviting us to join them. The combination of the two styles is at first disconcerting, but we quickly settle into Miller’s altered reality with its visual cornucopia— traces of Middle Eastern mosaics, bright tie-dye patterns and wild amoebic shapes delight the eye and bring to mind what was called “mind-tripping” back in the day. Careful—you may find yourself leaping into these paintings too…
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
A one-of-a-kind design
“A house for Eddie is an opportunity,” was Frank Lloyd Wright’s reply to a boy who requested designs for a doghouse from the famous architect. Though he designed many famous buildings and homes in the many decades that he worked in architecture, this is his only known doghouse.
Jim Berger was 12 when he wrote to Wright and asked if he would design a doghouse for his dog, Eddie. Berger’s parents had a house designed by Wright and Jim really wanted to build a doghouse that would go with the house and that would allow Eddie a comfortable place to rest in the winter. Though Wright was a little too busy at the time working on the design of the Guggenheim, he did send Berger the designs a few months later, free of charge. Berger had planned to pay by saving up money from his job delivering newspapers.
Though the original doghouse was destroyed, Berger and his brother rebuilt it form the original design for a recent documentary about Frank Lloyd Wright called “Romanza.” Though he now has three Beagles, Berger says they prefer to stay in the house, and he hopes that the doghouse will find a home in a museum.
Fantastic, Mythic, Realistic Dogs
Two visual parallels best explain the drawing collages of Chicago artist and poet Tony Fitzpatrick: Roman Catholic holy cards and baseball cards. In each of these forms—one sacred, the other vernacular (if not profane)—a primary image is surrounded by other images that combine visually to tell the story of the figure in the center. St. Patrick might be set amidst a four-leaf clover, a banished snake, a Celtic Cross; Babe Ruth among the number 714, a New York Yankees logo, a bat. Both the holy card and the baseball card also include some text, a prayer to the saint or the player’s stats, as Fitzpatrick’s drawing collages include his poetry, laid like the brick walls of the city along the margins of the work.
Fitzpatrick’s collages—which include his poetry, laid like the brick walls of the city along the margins of the work—grow out of his desire to tell stories about Chicago, some person or place or emotion. Around a central drawn image, he builds the collage using the detritus of everyday life: old matchbooks, postcards, cigar bands, advertising, girly magazines, baseball cards, political pamphlets, playing cards, novelty glow-in-the-dark stickers, bus transfers. These physical fragments of everyday life evoke a past Chicago, places long-gone, some forgotten, some dimly remembered, and allow Fitzpatrick to create magical memories of the city.
These images sometimes use dogs: mythic, like Anubis in Apparition of the Honored Chicago Dead, or semi-anthropomorphized, like Blues for Mr. Hound Dog; realistic like Wonder Dog, or fantastic, like Chicago Ghost Dog. Fitzpatrick’s work is both intimately personal and an engagement with everyone’s Chicago. The deep emotional honesty that marks his work comes out perhaps most strongly in the poem Chicago Ghost Dog: “Somewhere in Chicago there is a dog that remembers the stars and my Dad.”
Fitzpatrick learned his Chicago from his father, who was the inspiration for his book-length poem, Bum Town. The best dogs, with their loyalty and devotion, are like members of one’s family, and the image of a stray dog, without family or home, unable to see the stars blotted out by the city’s lights, can haunt us. But if one of those strays remembers Fitzpatrick’s father, and the stars, everything is connected again, the individual and the cosmos, in dreamlike imagery.
His ability to create such magic in words and images is what makes Tony Fitzpatrick one of Chicago’s greatest artists and poets.
An artist’s best friend—the dog in Renaissance painting
Dogs are a common visual motif in Western art and have been called the “artist’s best friend” for their role as companion and life model. The close and accurate observation of animals is a hallmark of Renaissance (and Baroque) art in general, and as the most domesticated and favored of species, it is inevitable that dogs in particular would be well represented. Sketching from life was part of the Renaissance artist’s normal routine, and when artists began to look at the world around them, there was the dog—a ready and willing source of inspiration.
Throughout the Renaissance, dogs abound in art, most often appearing as incidental background motifs, part of a hunting scene, religious, mythological, or allegorical composition, or beside their masters in portraits. However, even a brief accounting of their role in the visual arts of the period involves issues that go well beyond the history of art, including court life, aristocratic tastes and fashion, pet ownership, the status of hunting among the royal and noble classes, developments in the classification of dog breeds and types, and changing views of the intelligence and mental abilities of dogs. For example, although working dogs were ubiquitous in the Renaissance—they turned cooking spits, pulled carts, herded sheep, baited wild animals, and competed in sporting events—their menial status mostly precluded their appearing as such in paintings of the period.
The first great observer of animals in the Renaissance, Pisanello, produced several sensitively observed studies of dogs, evidently drawn from nature, in a sketchbook in Paris. He used these studies for the Greyhounds, hound, and two small Spaniel-like dogs in the foreground of The Vision of Saint Eustace (fig. 2). Half a century later, Albrecht Dürer rendered dogs with the attention of a portraitist, in silverpoint and ink and wash, leaving us several preparatory drawings of individual animals taken directly from life that exemplify the Renaissance artist’s intensifying quest for accuracy and realism. The tense, nervous hunting dogs in the foreground of his largest engraving, The Vision of Saint Eustace, were realized so persuasively that they served as an important source for subsequent artists who reused them for their own compositions.
Not all depictions of dogs in the Renaissance were lifelike or the result of firsthand observation, however, because many artists viewed animals as merely a vehicle for conveying a bewildering variety of complex and often contradictory symbols. Just as often as dogs were shown in Italian paintings as the companion of the young Tobias, protecting the youth as he wandered far and wide in search of the fish that would cure the blindness of his father, Tobit, they also carried the ancient burden of pariah, or scavenger, dogs, associated in the Old Testament with evil and unclean things, and in the New Testament with Christ’s persecutors. The dog was the faithful attribute of Saints Dominic, Margaret of Cortona, and Roch, as well as of the hunters Diana, Adonis and Cephalus, but it was also a symbol of sexuality and promiscuity. Yet church fathers, scholars, poets, and humanists were symbolized and accompanied by dogs. In Dürer’s engraving of Saint Jerome in His Study (1514; Bartsch 60), the saint works on his letters or translations, while his dog sleeps quietly nearby, a vivid symbol of the contemplative life.
As early as the second half of the 15th century, dogs began to take on an independent existence in art. Their status as objects of favor and prestige among the European ruling families and their owners’ desire for conspicuous display, particularly among the Italian ducal families in Mantua, Ferrara and Florence, resulted in a demand for portraits of individual dogs. In an undated account sent to Galeazzo Maria Sforza, Duke of Milan, by Zanetto Bugato, one of the items to be paid for was “a portrait of the dog called Bareta.” Francesco Bonsignori is said to have painted for Francesco Gonzaga, 4th Marquis of Mantua, a dog whose likeness was so convincing that one of his own dogs was said to have attacked the painting.
Although dog portraiture per se did not become a widespread practice until the early 18th century, it is clear that Renaissance patrons did not consider their dogs as frivolous or inconsequential elements of their own portraits. Dogs, even today, are natural adjuncts of portraits, appearing as fashion accessories or indications of a sitter’s tastes and interests. Even in the early Renaissance they appear to have been painted from life—surely the little Griffon terrier in Jan van Eyck’s Giovanni Arnolfini and His Wife (fig. 4) is a family pet and stares boldly at the beholder, irrespective of his role as a traditional attribute of marital fidelity.
A notable example of a vivid and lifelike dog appearing alongside its owner in Italian painting is the pair of elegant Greyhounds accompanying Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta Kneeling before Saint Sigismondo in Piero della Francesca’s fresco in the Tempio Malatestiano, Rimini. Although bred principally for hunting, Greyhounds were often kept as court pets in great luxury; this pair was a gift from Pier Francesco di Lorenzo de’ Medici. The white Greyhound, lying with outstretched paws, waiting patiently on its master, is especially well rendered. Although these noble dogs have been widely interpreted as symbolic of some virtue like fidelity, they are equally convincing examples of the high value placed upon hunting dogs in the Renaissance and were probably more greatly appreciated by contemporary observers for Piero’s detailed naturalism. Fifteenth-century letters survive in which Italian princes express interest in obtaining fine hunting dogs or giving them as presents. Such dogs often wore costly collars—the dog collars of the Ferrarese court were made by the court goldsmith—and the 1468 inventory of Sigismondo’s possessions shows that he owned a number of elaborate dog collars studded with silver.
The affection that Ludovico II Gonzaga, Marquis of Mantua, had for his dog, Rubino, is confirmed not only through his letters and, following the animal’s death, the erection of a tombstone complete with a sentimental Latin epitaph, but also by the inclusion of the creature itself—a russet-coated Bloodhound-like dog—beneath his chair in Andrea Mantegna’s celebrated fresco depicting Ludovico, his family, and court (1465–1474; Camera degli Sposi, Palazzo Ducale, Mantua). The adjacent fresco, which depicts two huge Mastiffs and other hunting dogs, further attests to the passion for dogs at the Gonzaga court. Another notable representation of a dog in monumental wall painting in the Renaissance is the feathered Saluki with a studded collar in the foreground of Pinturicchio’s Departure of Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini for Basel (c. 1503–1507; Cathedral Library, Siena). In this fresco, the animal appears almost as conspicuous as the figure of the future Pope Pius II.
In the 16th century, dogs adorned portraits in a variety of ways intended to reflect the character, strength, and nobility of their owners. Lucas Cranach’s imposing pair of full-length portraits of Henry the Pious, Duke of Saxony, and his wife, Catherine of Mecklenburg (1514; Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Gemäldegalerie, Dresden), illustrates the distinctions often made between dogs in royal portraiture: lapdogs represented as exclusively female companions, large hounds depicted as attributes of male virility. The size and prominence of the dog in Antonio Mor’s Cardinal Granvelle’s Dwarf and Dog (c. 1550; Musée du Louvre, Paris)—depicted with such vividness that he can only have been a living dog—suggests that the portrait of the animal interested the patron as much as that of the ornately dressed court dwarf. Increasingly during the 16th-century, dogs appear in portraits not as symbols, or objects of status or ownership, but merely because their masters considered them beloved companions. The Bolognese painter Bartolomeo Passarotti, who included dogs frequently in his late works, summarized explicitly the era’s tender feelings toward dogs in Portrait of a Man with a Dog (c. 1585; Pinacoteca Capitolina, Rome), remarkable for the obvious display of affection between the pair.
Italian painters of the 16th century produced a succession of memorable canines that suggests how familiar and admired dogs had become during this period. For Kenneth Clark, the wordless sorrow of Piero di Cosimo’s grieving dog in A Satyr Mourning over a Nymph (fig. 1), “the best-loved dog of the Renaissance,’’ marked the beginning of a long tradition in Western art of investing animals with human characteristics. Other notable depictions of dogs include the beautifully painted hounds in Parmigianino’s frescoes of Diana and Actaeon (c. 1523–1524; Camerino, Rocca Sanvitale, Fontanellato); Jacopo da Pontormo’s dog, drawn from life with its back arched, stretching itself in the lunette fresco depicting Vertumnus and Pomona (1520–1521; Gran Salone, Villa Medici, Poggio a Caiano); Dosso Dossi’s white dog in the foreground of Circe and Her Lovers in a Landscape (c. 1511–1512; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.); and Federico Barocci’s brown-and-white puppy appealing to the spectator at the extreme lower right of the Madonna del Popolo (1575–1579; Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence).
It is in the work of the Venetian painters Carpaccio, Titian, Bassano, and Veronese, however, that canine imagery flourished in a sustained fashion. One of the first Renaissance painters to employ scenes of everyday life in his work, Vittore Carpaccio gave particular prominence to dogs in two vastly different contexts: as a symbol of carnality or animal appetite at the feet of a seated courtesan (c. 1495; Museo Correr, Venice), and as a symbol of the attributes of a scholar in the form of a fluffy white Bichon in Saint Augustine’s study (c. 1502; Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni, Venice).
With his preference for naturalistic form, Titian played an especially significant role in the promotion of the dog in the visual arts. In the portrait Federico II Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua, the gesture of the white Maltese-type dog pawing his master is especially appropriate, as the duke’s love for his dogs was well known; in the spring of 1525 he owned no fewer than 111 dogs. The keenly observed dogs in Titian’s portraits appear as solid and real, as convincing and touching, as the human sitters—for example, Charles V Standing with His Dog (1533; Museo del Prado, Madrid); Eleonora Gonzaga della Rovere, Duchess of Urbino (c. 1537, Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence); Captain with a Cupid and a Dog (c. 1550–1552, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Gemäldegalerie, Kassel); and Clarice Strozzi (1562; Staatliche Museen, Gemäldegalerie, Berlin), in which the lifelike depiction of the small red-and-white Spaniel was singled out by Pietro Aretino in a letter to the artist.
The toy dogs employed in Titian’s Venus of Urbino (1538; Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence) and in his paintings devoted to the theme of Venus with an organist or lute player (c. 1548–1549; Gemäldegalerie, Berlin), as well as in his second version of Danaë (1553–1554; Museo del Prado, Madrid), have been interpreted as symbols of female seductiveness. His hunting scenes with Venus and Adonis (1553–1554; Museo del Prado, Madrid) naturally feature realistic portrayals of dogs, and they appear conspicuously in the foreground of the late Flaying of Marsyas (c. 1575; Archiepiscopal Palace, Kremsier). If Titian ever produced a painting with a dog as its principal subject, it has not survived; the near-exception is the engimatic Boy with Dogs, which has been recently interpreted as an allegory of the complementary operations of nature and art: The contrast between the nursing mother’s relationship to her pups and the boy’s to his adult dog expresses the idea that nature brings forth, while art (or culture) trains and nurtures.
Jacopo Bassano seems to have been naturally drawn to animals as his subjects, and he depicted a variety of dogs of different breeds in his historical, religious, and genre subjects over a period of 40 years, beginning with the Adoration of the Magi (c. 1539; Burghley, Stamford, Lincolnshire), which includes a small Spaniel at the Virgin’s feet. He lent a naturalistic note to his compositions with motifs such as the dogs that sniff at the sores on Lazarus’s legs in the foreground of Lazarus and the Rich Man (c. 1554; Cleveland Museum of Art) and lick the blood of the wounded man in The Good Samaritan (fig. 3). Around the middle of the 16th century, Bassano produced a painting of two hunting dogs that survives to mark the beginning of a tradition of commissioned “portraits,” or at least likenesses, of actual dogs that reflects a new interest in and psychological understanding of animals. This unusual work was commissioned in 1548 by Antonio Zentani, a patrician Venetian art collector who apparently wanted a painting of only these two dogs, suggesting to some that these animals were prized hunters from his own kennel and that their depiction was not expected to convey any symbolic or hidden meaning.
Noting Bassano’s dedication to capturing the natural look of dogs, the art historian Roger Rearick emphasized his extraordinary excerption of “two perfectly straightforward canines from their familiar context” and the dedication of a painting to them and them alone. More recently, however, it has been suggested, on the basis of the patron’s spiritual inclinations, that the dogs tethered to a stump, in fact, convey “a severe, almost cheerless message” and represent a complex allegory of the combat between earthly and spiritual life. Irrespective of the symbolic connotations or moralizing intentions of Bassano’s composition, the animals are beautifully realized and remarkable for their truthful representation. The pose of the dog on the left appears to have caught the attention of Tintoretto, who inserted it nearly exactly into his painting Christ Washing the Disciples’ Feet for the church of San Marcuola, Venice (c. 1548–49; Museo del Prado, Madrid). By the beginning of the 17th century, Two Hunting Dogs was thought to be a work by Veronese and thereafter it passed as a painting by Titian through a number of celebrated collections, including those of Cardinal Silvio Valenti Gonzaga, William Beckford, and the Duke of Bedford; it was not until the middle of the 20th century that its proper authorship was restored. The naturalistic tenor of Bassano’s art was given further expression in a similar painting of two dogs by themselves that he made shortly thereafter, Two Hunting Dogs (c. 1555; Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence), and, two decades later, in A Greyhound (c. 1571; private collection, Turin).
Paolo Veronese, who has been called the “greatest dog-lover in Italian art,” included dozens of dogs, from Greyhounds to Spaniels, in his religious scenes, mythological and allegorical works, and portraits. Dogs abound in particular in his large paintings of biblical feasts executed for the refectories of monasteries in Venice and Verona. The Feast in the House of Simon the Pharisee (c. 1560; Galleria Sabauda, Turin), painted for the refectory of Saints Nazaro and Celso in Verona, Veronese’s earliest extant supper scene, contains two dogs under the table that have elicited the admiration of observers from Giorgio Vasari (“so beautiful that they appear real and alive”) to John Ruskin (“The essence of dog is there, the entire, magnificent, generic animal type, muscular and living”). In two versions of the Supper at Emmaus (c. 1560; Musée du Louvre, Paris, and Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden), he seems to have taken special pleasure in showing children and dogs playing together. And in the vast Marriage at Cana for the refectory of San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice, the most ambitious of Veronese’s banquet scenes, a pair of magnificent white hounds immediately draws the spectator’s attention to the center of the composition.
In the interior of the Villa Barbaro at Maser, where Veronese executed a rich and iconographically complex decorative fresco program about 1561, one of the rooms is traditionally called the Stanza del Cane, after a beautifully rendered little dog occupying a ledge high above the visitor. Veronese’s dogs are painted with such loving attention that they must reflect his own feeling toward animals—a feeling that perhaps is mirrored in the motif of Diana nuzzling one of her Greyhounds in the clouds of the Sala di Olimpo. The abundance and variety of dogs in Veronese’s art make it difficult to attribute specific symbolism to them—they are too numerous and appear in too many diverse settings. Veronese is said to have produced formal “portraits” of individual dogs, including his own, but his only extant painting in which dogs vie with the human figure for prominence is Cupid with Two Dogs (c. 1580–83; Alte Pinakothek, Munich). This painting shows a winged Cupid wearing a golden quiver and holding two black-and-white hunting dogs on a chain, a composition that has been interpreted variously as an allegory of the contrariness of love, faithfulness in love, and the restraint of the animal appetite for love.
This essay is adapted from "An Artist's Best Friend: The Dog in Renaissance and Baroque Painting and Sculpture," by Edgar Peters Bowron in Best in Show: The Dog in Art from the Renaissance to Today (Yale University Press in association with the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and the Bruce Museum of Art and Science); used with permission.
This intrepid photographer documented Depression-era Americans’ pride and spirit
When my father, Rondal Partridge, was 17, he began working for Dorthea Lange, best known for her photograph, Migrant Mother. He worked in Dorothea’s darkroom, packed her camera bags, and drove her up and down the back roads of California. “Slow down, Ron, slow down,” she would insist as they crept along at twenty miles an hour. When they saw something interesting, they stopped: a migrant camp, a piece of broken-down farm equipment, people in a field picking crops. Dorothea took thousands of pictures for the Farm Security Administration, trying to capture the experiences of the dust bowl refugees who had drifted out to California, looking for work.
“Their roots were all torn out,” Dorothea said about the migrants. “I had to get my camera to register the things about those people that were more important than how poor they were—their pride, their strength, their spirit.” Ron and Dorothea walked into camp slowly, her limp from childhood polio immediately setting the migrants at ease. They knew she understood being struck down by adversity. She sometimes asked for a glass of water and drank it very slowly, letting people get used to her presence. Then she set her camera on a tripod, and often began photographing by asking a child to pose for her.
One boy stood in front of her camera, his stubbley head looking like it had been shaved for lice, his face grubby, but a look of tender pride in his eyes as he held up two fat, squirming puppies. Dorothea titled the photograph Migrant People (1938), letting the boy represent the many difficulties and strengths of the migrant workers.
Recently, I asked my father if he saw many dogs when he was on the road with Dorothea. He shook his head. “Often there wasn’t enough food for the kids,” Ron said. “Not many migrants brought a dog.”
Despite their meager resources, a few migrants did bring their dogs. Dorothea included them in her photos, alongside their owners in Fruit Tramp (1935) and Spanish Americans (1943). It’s easy to imagine how important these dogs could be, as the refugees wandered around with their “roots all torn out.” The feel of dogs’ silky ears, the trusting look in their eyes, the smell of grass and dust and sun in their coat: All this must have been reassuring in a world suddenly turned over.
In the late ’30s and early ’40s, Dorothea took several trips out of California. Once again we see her posing a child with his dog in Elm Grove, Okla. (1938). The contrast with the migrant boy and his puppies is striking. The boy wears patched and worn clothing, but he looks clean and well-fed. The Depression had not forced his family onto the road. In Iowa, Small Town Life (1941) as the Depression is easing, we see a lesser-known version of one of her popular photographs. It includes a farmer’s dog who has wandered into the frame. Alert and bright-eyed, it’s easy to imagine he just rode into town in the back of a pickup truck, happy to be with the other farmers he knows from previous trips.
In fields and camps and small towns, Dorothea did exactly what she set out to do: photograph the strength and resilience of the American spirit. And side-by-side with these courageous people are their beloved dogs.
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