Christian Vieler can thank his dog for helping him make the move from amateur to professional photographer and to internet sensation. Vieler wanted to test a new flash for capturing high speed action that he had just purchased. Nobody else was around, so his Labrador Retriever, Lotte, became his first model. Lotte just sat there and looked at him, exhibiting behavior that photographers usually appreciate. In this case, his dog’s calm manner was not helpful—it was a problem since Vieler’s goal was to capture fast movements.
Screenshot of photos © Christian Vieler
In order to get his dog moving, Vieler pulled a treat from his pocket and tossed it, taking a photo of Lotte in action. After doing this repeatedly to test his new flash, he found to his surprise that the photographs were more than just sharp—they were highly amusing. Vieler got such a kick out of them that he began to photograph other dogs catching (or attempting to catch) treats. The best of these photographs eventually appeared in Vieler’s book Treat! which came out in 2017. More recently, a 2019 monthly wall calendar featuring some of his favorite pictures was published.
Part of what is so compelling about these photographs is that they allow us to see moments in time that pass too quickly for the human eye-brain combination to fully process. Though we have seen dogs catching treats countless times, we have never really seen what these photographs show us.
Photography has a history of enlightening us about behavior that is too fast for us in real time. The most famous example is Eadweard Muybridge’s horse photographs from the 1870s. One series showed that horses do have all four feet off the ground simultaneously while trotting. Another showed that while galloping, their feet are all off the ground when all four are gathered underneath the body and not when they are extended forwards and backwards as artists usually depicted them. Muybridge’s work settled several hotly debated questions about horse locomotion.
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Many of Vieler’s dog photographs make the dogs look like cartoons, with Marmaduke and Scooby Doo frequently brought to mind. (Clearly, cartoonists are keen observers of dogs who have not so much created caricatures of our best friends as captured the truth in stop-motion fashion.) These photographs of dogs attempting to catch treats with varying degrees of success are charming and funny, as well as surprisingly beautiful.