Martin Usborne: A Dog Trilogy
Sep 12 – Nov 30, 2017
In Martin Usborne's own words:
THE SILENCE OF DOGS IN CARS
"I was once left in a car at a young age. I don't remember when or where or how long--possibly at the age of four, perhaps outside a supermarket, probably fifteen minutes only. The details don't matter. The point is that I wondered if anyone would come back. The fear I felt was strong: in a child's mind it is possible to be alone forever.
Around the same age I began to feel a deep affinity with animals--in particular, their plight at the hands of humans. I saw a TV documentary that included footage of a dog being put in a plastic bag and being kicked. What appalled me most was that the dog could not speak back.
I should say that I was a well-loved child and never abandoned and yet it is clear, that both these experiences arose from the same place deep inside me: a fear of being alone and unheard. The images in this series explore that feeling, both in relation to myself and to animals in general. The dog in the car is a metaphor, not just for the way that animals (both domestic and wild) are so often silenced and controlled by humans, but for the way that we so often silence and control the darker parts of ourselves: the fear and lonliness that we would rather keep locked away.
I started this project by walking around supermarket car parks, hoping that dogs would appear from the back seats. When none did, I was then forced to stage the shots, but soon realized that I did not want documentary images anyway, since I was more interested in creating something dreamlike, something super-real. Nearly all the images are taken at dusk or dawn, never in broad daylight, and often with multiple lights. The question I always ask myself after taking an image is not: Does this look good? But rather: Does this feel right? The emotional impact is paramount.
When I started this project, I knew the photos would be dark. What I did not expect was to see so many subtle reactions by the dogs: some sad, some expectant, some angry, some dejected. It was as if, upon opening up a box of grey-coloured pencils, I was surprised to see so many different shades inside.
There is life in the darkest places inside us."
--Martin Usborne, Photographer's Note from The Silence of Dogs in Cars (Kehrer Verlag, 2012)
NICE TO MEET YOU
"I remember meeting a stranger on a sunny day whilst I was suffering from depression. 'Nice to meet you, how are you?' said the stranger. 'I'm fine,' I replied. I wanted to howl.
What happens to those raw, painful parts of ourselves we hide away? The anger, confusion, uncertainty, hope? And what strategies do we use to hide these parts of ourselves? Politeness, arrogance, speed, disinterest?
Each image in this series is a portrait of a dog photographed through a material or substance: a wet pane of glass, faint smoke, dense material, bleeding light. Nearly all of the dogs are abandoned, untrained, often agressive. One is a wolf. (Every dog was carefully handled and protected in the process). The images are titled with everyday phrases that so often hide subtexts.
As with the previous series, The Silence of Dogs in Cars, canines are used here to reflect that unspoken, instinctive side of our nature. In my own experience, it is dogs--along with some other animals--that have the ability to communicate certain feelings most directly even though they have no words.
But the series is also about the voicelessness of animals, about their hidden pains and silent needs that, to many people, are not so apparent."
WHERE HUNTING DOGS REST
"As I write, it is early February in southern Spain. The almond trees are in bloom, the days are warm, and I am surrounded by 700 barking, howling dogs. I am taking the last few photographs for this book at a dog rescue centre just outside Seville. It is hard to sleep at night surrounded by a mournful canine chorus, but I feel compelled to capture something of their strange and haunting story.
The Andalucia countryside is undeniably beautiful--rolling hills are threaded with olive trees, earthy plains are lit by a sharp sun--but the idyll is thrown into relief by a daily routine that is much less edifying. The annual hunting season has just finished and up to ninety hunting dogs a day arrive at the rescue centre in various states of health. Abandoned by their owners because they are considered too slow or too expensive to keep for the next season, some of the dogs are dramatically thin, a few have broken limbs, others have had their microchips gouged out of their necks so the owners cannot be traced. These are the lucky ones. Many of the slower dogs are punished for their poor performance by being thrown down wells or hung from olive trees with their feet still touching the floor so that they 'play the piano', tapping out a silent tune to accompany a slow death. Such extreme practices are becoming rarer but the hunting tradition that drives them persists.
These dogs, much like the countryside in which they hunt, bear the mark of man's heavy hand and yet maintain a raw beauty. They have been tamed, managed, abused but, despite the scars, they retain an elegance. The Galgo, or Spanish Greyhound, is the most iconic of the hunting dogs. Tall, lean of muscle, with a proud posture, they are created in shades of brown, cream, yellow and black as if formed from the earth and then polished and dried in the sun. They are used for chasing hares across the plains in the winter months where they show phenomenal speed and even greater endurance.
Alongside the Galgo is the overlooked Podenco, a smaller and slightly less statuesque breed, it often works in hillier terrain but is equally adept at catching its prey.
Both the Galgo and Podenco have had a remarkable fall from grace that is hard to comprehend. In the 12th century such a dog might have been owned by an aristocrat or appeared in a classical painting or been passed down in a nobleman's will. Nowadays many dogs return to earth by the sides of roads or the bottom of the river thus chasing a long journey from historical heaven to contemporary hell."
--Martin Usborne, excerpt from his introduction to Where Hunting Dogs Rest (Kehrer Verlag, 2015)