I have a great deal of empathy for pet photogs, those fonts of perpetual patience. I’ve only had one experience doing it, and it came to me via LIFE magazine, who had a notion of doing a four page double gatefold of all 148 (at that time) breeds of dog present at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in Madison Square Garden in NY. This year’s show just concluded, with an affable Affenpinscher named, oddly enough, Banana Joe, as the winner.
The things you do as a photog. I set up a 617 Fujica Panorama camera, on a super heavy tripod, and gaffered it to the floor. We then massed sandbags around the legs, so many that the thing looked like a machine gun placement out of a World War II movie. The camera could not move for three straight days. It was looking at a stage we built, with draping and brightly painted blocks for the smaller pooches to climb up on. Behind the drape, concealed, stood the owners. (Trust me, show dog owners are a highly specialized breed, themselves.) I then would try my best to get the little darlings attention, via all manner of undignified noises and gestures at the camera. It got so embarrassing, so quickly, that my assistants taped a scrawled message to the back of the camera: “You Said Yes,” referring to the assignment.
I did say yes, and when you open your mouth as a photog, and that word comes out of it, the editor then shifts the responsibility for whatever happens to your long suffering shoulders. I had great support from the LIFE staff on this job, gathering pooches, keeping the breeds straight, making sure that no animosities surfaced on the set amongst our star subjects. (I don’t want to be next to the Ibizan Hound!) The whole thing was the brainchild of Melissa Stanton, one of the senior editors, and a dog lover.
I also had to listen to the owners, one of whom, whose charge was a Labrador Retriever, warned me, “Whatever you do, don’t use a squeaky toy to get his attention. He will come get it, and I probably can’t hold him.” My bad. I didn’t convey that to the crew, one of whom was behind me with a squeaky toy, and gave it a good honk. That lab bounded off the stage, dragging his owner through the draping and plowed through my lights and stands to, well, retrieve. Mayhem ensued. Throughout it all the pooch’s expression of the sheer joy of the chase never changed.
The gatefold itself was put together back at the magazine in Rubik’s Cube fashion by the art directors. You can see the original 617 transparencies above, still in their sleeve, with grease pencil marks, adhesive tape codes and numbers, which I dodged out (badly) to simply show the physical nature of chromes and how they would be transported into print. It was a very popular spread in the book at the time. Lots of dog lovers out there.
Sherri Butler says
Dogs are a breeze… if you compare this with photographing cats & kittens 😉
reg gordon says
I was a chef in a local bar right around the corner from the Hotel Pennsylvania. The week that Kennel Show came to town was without a doubt the weirdest of my year. From little old ladies sneaking their dogs in the restaurant to uptight WASPs ordering medium rare fillet steaks for their precious pooches back in the hotel.
The first night I got one of those orders I just threw in an overcooked steak ( probably about Medium well) and sent it out. She unwrapped it and cut into it and sent it back.
A seriously high stress week.
Could have been worse I could have been a chambermaid in the hotel.
THEY had some horror stories to tell
Alex Sahagun says
Lol. That must have been fun ! My dog howls whit that kind of noise. And even without that, it’s very hats to take pictures of him!
As a dog photographer I thank you for your thoughts. And as the owner of five retrievers I can relate to having a lab plow through all your gear to retrieve. And just imagine the look on his face… 🙂
Bill Bogle, Jr. says
We went to Westminster two years ago, and as dog lovers, it was quite a scene. I couldn’t get the scenes from Best in Show out of my head, and most handlers/owners will tell you that as well.
I had a Chocolate Lab once whom I took to obedience school. We had a sit and call, where he was to come to my call, and I was to encourage him. He did, lunging at the last minute, with his big head hitting me in the face, splitting my lip open. There was a good deal of blood. He was so happy he complied with my urging him to come. As a former hockey player, I was used to it, but the woman next to me with her small dog almost fainted. He was not a quick study or a star pupil, but a great dog.
Great work, and insight into the pre-digital days. Almost a pin registered Jerry Ulesmann quality.
Is it scary that I recall when that photo was published and saved it for a while?
Deb Hollister says
Great end result for all that work! I love the little dog escaping on the bottom right.
Nash Ruiz says
I like to photograph animals specially dogs. Regards from Spain. Nash Ruiz
An ‘interesting’ experience I’m sure – always say yes at least once : ).
I have some great shots of my own dogs – from both a technical & personal perspective – but give me someone else’s and that magic seems to evaporate pretty fast. Having said that, I think I would rather photograph pooches than babies from my experiences thus far…
Love the final result – it must have been very satisfying, and a relief, to see them in print in that beautiful gatefold.
Richard Hales says
You have the patients of a saint, dealing with the owners probably more onerous than dealing with the pooches (I’ve had experience…)
Barbara O'Brien says
As an animal liefstye photographer myself, I am amazed at how you got this shot. And even more amazing pre-digital! I bow down to you, Sir.
Michael Corrado says
It’s official… I don’t want your job!!! I’ll stick to my COOLPIX with Bella in the backyard thank you very much!!!
Incredible job as always Mr. McNally!
Patsy Eccles says
Absolutely loved this whole story on so many fronts! You must have been doggone tired when it was over!
Jen | Fetchlight Pet Lifestyle Photography says
Thanks for the nice words about pet photography, loved the story about the lab and the squeaky toy mayhem!
You had to know I’d dig this 😉 What a gig for you! I’ll never forget the lab story you speak of in this post!
From a dog guardian, Dawn 🙂
Michael of Manila says
For me, dogs are like little kids. You should always know what specific time of the day that you can shoot them in their most behaved manner.
Matt Timmons says
In the final spread, you can see on some rows, the owners peeking their heads through the drapery. I wonder why the art department left those in.
Beth Adams says
Got home the other day from my 2 day shoot at Westminster. Partly assignment for a breed club, and partly on behalf of private clients. it was a true adventure.
I had a great time and am slaving away editing, uploading and posting my photos. But you’re right, unless you’re used to working with dogs, it’s a different world. My wedding photog friends all think it’s a piece of cake til they try to pan and shoot a dog doing lure coursing.
I’m glad Life did this…
ROFL! This was a great post! Thanks for sharing all the gory details!
Drew Gardner says
Quite brilliant Joe.
An adventure indeed.
Neil Senior says
Wow excellent photo, lot of effort but great result! ; )
Thanks you Very much for the nice words about pet photography
Patrik Lindgren says
You and your stories. They are the best in the industry. I´m glad that you keep sharing them with us.
Tumbleweed Photography Studio says
What a challenging yet wonderful opportunity. It looks as if you pulled it off flawlessly!