I have been enamored with the work of Charlotte Dumas for some time now and I was thrilled to hear that she would share some of her Heart Shaped Hole series of stray dogs in Palermo with Mrs. Sizzle. We asked her a few questions about her art and love of animals. Where did your love of dogs begin and why?
I think as a child I had a natural affection for animals, as almost all children have I suppose. Not only are we more on their level literally, I think as children we don't tend to see animals as very different from ourselves. A good quality.
How have they shaped your work?
When I started portraying animals, the first photos were of dogs, police dogs in particular. I was intrigued by the way these dogs are trained to act aggressive on command; however, I found that I most enjoyed taking their portrait away from their “workplace”. That's how it all started! After I had finished shooting all the police dogs, in my studio at the Rijksakademie in Amsterdam where I was in residence, I continued with police horses and so on...One subject usually leads to another. My subjects are defined by their context which is what makes my photos different from an isolated image of an animal. They appear in groups, just like they would outside in their own environment. Just like in the book Retrieved, the dogs of 9/11 are together again, as they were in 2001 searching for survivors. Context is increasingly more important in my work. It's also the lack of animals present in our daily life that motivates me to investigate situations where man and animal still relate to and depend upon each other. In fact, I'm currently working on a project in Japan and Sweden, filming and photographing horses at work in forestry. Animals are great to observe and learn from. They are also very primal and can be really unkind to each other, just like us. They can thrive despite their habitat being infringed upon from all sides. They are inventive and they offer emotional support to all of us. Their continuing disappearance from our lives, as an active counter-part, affects us greatly. Like children, they remind us to be empathetic with other living beings! The animals guide me from place to place and I feel in many ways nomadic like the wild horses near Dayton Nevada that I followed in 2013.
What made you become a photographer?
Photography became a means for me to look at the world. At times, when I'm behind my camera, I feel like I'm actually inside of it, safe from all around me. This can be tricky in some situations since I literally narrow my focus looking through the view finder. I may just want to reduce what I can see, so as to make life more comprehensible. And of course, I like to hold on to things passed - all photographers do! There is something truly melancholic inherent in the medium that I love.
Do you have your own animals?
Unfortunately we don't have any animals at the moment because we move around too much! I dream of a house on the Hudson where my three dogs can run free around the yard with my daughters. :-)
I add a little on the stray dogs of Palermo: I made a small publication on the strays of Palermo in 2008 titled Heart Shaped Hole. The idea that images are wildly free for interpretation really applies here. While one person may experience sadness when looking at the portraits of the dogs - including me, another may perceive them as proud and independent creatures roaming the streets of the old city, fully accepted by the locals. Some of the dogs have names, names that nobody recalls giving but that everyone knows. At night, some people would put boxes out for them to sleep in. The life of the soulful creatures in this book, is indeed very different from many strays around the world.
Thank you Charlotte.
Charlotte has a show currently up at the Art and Design Gallery in London.