Text by Mandi Keighran Photos/Sophie Gamand
Sophie Gamand’s photographs of dogs will quite possibly make you laugh or coo – but the woman behind the lens hopes that they will also make you think about animal rights.
Until she followed her fiancé to New York from her native France in 2010, Gamand had only ever dabbled in photography. Living in New York with few friends and no family or job, she found herself wandering the streets with her camera in hand. “I was trying to find out who I wanted to be,” she says. “I quickly realised I was more interested in photographing dogs rather than the people walking them. I started volunteering as a photographer at a vet clinic as a way of documenting what dogs were doing in New York, and how they fit into such an unnatural environment.”
From the beginning, Gamand’s photography captured the dual nature of human-dog relationships. On the one hand, she photographed dog pageants (yes, they exist) where owners adorn their canine companions in specially designed gowns, pearls and wigs to parade down a catwalk, and collaborated with renowned pet couturier Anthony Rubio on Dog Vogue – on the other, she worked on her At the Vet series, and spent 18 months travelling to the infamous “Dead Dog Beach”, where strays are dumped in Puerto Rico, to photograph rescue workers.
It was while working on her Metamorphosis series – an ongoing project about dog grooming – that she stumbled across the concept that would send her work viral. “I was photographing the groomer bathing the dogs and I realised they have the most amazing expressions when they’re wet. I had to do a series on it,” she says. “Wet Dog has made my career.”
Not only did the series go viral online, it won the portrait category at the Sony World Photography Awards – a prestigious prize that has always gone to a photographer shooting human subjects. “People were very surprised,” says Gamand. “But it really validated my work – I was trying to photograph these dogs as if they were human. In a city like New York, dogs are not really animals.”
A book deal for the series quickly followed, and Gamand began exploring different ways she could support America’s animal shelters. “Wet Dog gave my photography a voice,” she says. “As an animal advocate, I wanted to be able to give back even more to the dogs through my work.” The discovery that over one million pit bulls are euthanised every year in America gave Gamand her next subject – a series of romantically styled portraits of pit bulls wearing flower crowns. “The idea is to rebrand the breed and show them in a different light – the shelters use the images to promote the dogs for adoption.” She’s even set up a website – strikingpaws.com – to show how good photography can help homeless pets.
Her latest project is Prophecy, a study of the strange beauty of hairless dog breeds. “Hairless dogs have a unique beauty – they’re kind of like prophets or shamans.” While the new series might struggle to get the Chinese crested dog off the “world’s ugliest dog” lists, it could very possibly be another viral sensation.
The Wet Dog book will be released throughout Europe in autumn 2015
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