If photography is the keyp to the soul--certainly Ruth Silverman is one of its gatekeepers. Her new books of photographs, entitled The Dog--100 Years of Classic Photography (Chronicle Books), is an exquisite selection of images from the masters and the anonymous. Silverman has an unerring eye; fortunately for us, she knows canines and photography equally well--there's a touch of magic in every image. For those who doubt animals have souls--the evidence is within these pages.
Mary Ellen Mark
Mary Ellen Mark, Chuck with His Dog, Portsmouth, Ohio, 1989
The major dog magazines' cover photograph invariably depict some hapless pooch groomed for show, grinning and sparkling like an electrified puppy. Such dog photography is to the real thing what McDonald's is to cuisine.
The real thing is Ruth Silverman's The Dog (100 Years of Classic Photography). If you already own The Dog Observed, Ms. Silverman's previous (1984) collection of dog photography, I need only say that this new collection is every bit as good as the first. Buy it.
Avedon, Weston, Leibovitz, Wegman, Kertesz, Lord Snowden, Sally Mann--many of these photographers are famous; others are less familiar or anonymous. I hadn't seen man of these images before and I expect they will be equally fresh to most Bark readers.
The images reveal what dogs are and, inevitably, what we think of them. Some made me smile, one or two hurt the heart; a few changed my mind.
Although I was pleased to pore over so many briilliant images, I soon faced the reviewer's difficulty that each of these photographs I particularly liked.
Robert Capa's photograph of a 1939 Barcelona air raid is blurred except for the woman running for shelter, trying to keep from dropping her parcels, trying to keep from dignity intact. The woman's urgency is palpable against the blurred town square, as is the joy of her little dog running at her feet. "Oh," the little dog seems to be thinking, "finally she runs and plays, what fun!"
Erwitt Elliot has photographed a wealthy middle-aged woman whose Bull Terrier lies half in her lap. The woman smiles and her dog smiles. The woman's smile is oblique, safely conventional and doesn't reach her eyes. The
Bull Terrier's smile is more honest and comments on its owner's smile, reminding us that the sharpest teeth are concealed behind human lips. I wouldn't eat near the woman's food dish without due precautions. In 1967 Danny Lyon photographed two teenage ruffians in Knoxville, Tennessee. One lounges shirtless--perplexed or annoyed--behind the wheel of a disabled convertible. The other stands outside, holding a puppy against his chest. The boy won't meet our eyes but his dirty hands holding the dog--who, like both boys, is a mongrel--are tender. This is not an optimistic portrait. I cannot think that any of thse waifs will find happiness; survival would be achievement enough. What is hopeful in the image is that gentleness, available to the richest and poorest among us, in the prescence of a dog.
Art defines and fress us. The artist's ruthless focus on a single image, his possibility of that moment, satisfies our need for fulfillment while making all other dreams possible.