The Sepia Dogs

Photo from 'Dogs" by Catherine Johnson

Photo from ‘Dogs” by Catherine Johnson

People and their dogs. We see them every day, walking down the street, messing about in gardens and parks, living lives alongside each other.

We know it has always been thus. We know dogs have been living with men since caves were desirable residences.

There was Gerald of Wales, who wrote in the 12th century:  “A dog, of all animals, is most attached to man, and most easily distinguishes him; sometimes, when deprived of his master, he refuses to live, and in his master’s defence is bold enough to brave death; ready, therefore, to die, either with or for his master.”

Whilst that loyalty is implicit in the relationship between men and dogs, it is the little things in life which show how comfortable we have become in each other’s company. And since the advent of photography in 1839, the little things have found their way onto photographs.

I was pottering through a bookshop in the High Street in Eton today, when I found a book which claimed me. It is called, simply, “Dogs”, collected by Catherine Johnson and with a very few words by William Wegman. It has the odd quote, in perfect copperplate handwriting.

The majority of the book is taken up by old pictures of people with their dogs. They are all anonymous. And each one tells a story.

Like the old man on a white bench in a well-cut suit and a Tchaikovsky beard surrounded by a beautiful garden: and next to him, on the bench, sits a dachshund, perfectly mirroring his master. The picture is dated 1924.

And so many beach shots, like the one with the women in those blue and white bathing dresses typical of the 1910s and a spaniel craning into the picture from the side.

There are pictures of a rangy WWII soldier on leave, back at home with his family, for the present at least, his golden labrador bounding up at the family in undisguised delight.

There are the doggies in a pram, the dogies in sunglasses, the doggies doing tricks, doggies showing their best sides.

It is a feast a celebration of the fact they have always been at our side, in good times and in bad.

Johnson is New York based.She has a knack for collecting the photographs which are rich with humanity and caninity; they show humour, and passion for these creatures who have lived alongside us for so long.  Chair of the Photography Committee of the National Arts Club, she represented British photographer Norman Parkinson in North America, and has edited two other books.

But this one is my favourite.

Everyone who walked into the house picked it up and was absorbed. And Phil commented: “The people’s clothes, the fashions, their surroundings come from a certain era. But the dogs, and what they are doing, is timeless. They could have been photographed yesterday.”

Looking at these pictures is a peculiar kind of time travel.

But our Time Lords, on this occasion, have four paws and an affable muzzle.

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33 thoughts on “The Sepia Dogs

  1. Wonderful photos. Thanks for sharing. I just lost one of mine this week. Bailey was almost 14. But her litter mate, Prissy, is still with me so we’ll adjust. Can’t imagine life without dogs. Thanks again.

    1. Hello Susan, thank you for reading today and so sorry to hear you lost someone this week. It’s the hardest thing, their lifetimes not synchronising with ours. But if these photos show anything it is that their memory, their inimitable character, persists for decades and longer after they are gone. I, too, could not imagine my life without a dog.

  2. Wonderful set of pictures. I hadn’t heard of Catherine Johnson, but representing Norman Parkinson and chairing the Photography Committee of the National Arts Club is a pretty good recommendation. I have a slight suspicion of the seriousness of Arts Clubs after having spent quite a few evenings at the Chelsea Arts Club:)

  3. I love these snippets into the past – I think that pictures with dogs in them are generally so much less formal, and so much more revealing of the individuals.

  4. Dear Kate, please thank “Phil” for what he said about the photographs. That thought had never occurred to me before and it is so true. Each generation of humans don clothes that differ from the generation before and surround themselves with new inventions and paraphernalia. But dogs….and cats….need no adornment. They are simply themselves. Peace.

    1. Dee, I shall thank Phil. He is a dyed in the wool historian, and it is social history which captivates him most i think; but he has a very keen mind, and often surprises me, even after 20 years, with his observations.

  5. Spanish people even speak differently, but los perros speak the same language everywhere. (Bach?)
    Tomorrow we tour through Cordoba to Granada, spend two nights in G and then to the airport on Monday. our email doesn’t work here either.
    The Granada hotel is the Guadeloupe Hotel.

    1. Just use the blog, Dad. Perfectly satisfactory. Bach. I love it. Hope the hols are proving restful. I. conversely, have a day looking after five tomorrow as Libs heads for the wedding. Erk. Give Mum my love xxxx

  6. I love these moments when a book finds us and follows us home, not unlike a lost puppy looking for a good place to live. This is one puppy of a book that found the perfect place to reside. Those bathing beauties could easily be my aunt and her cousins frolicking at one of the Lake Michigan beaches, “hamming” it up for their boys off to war, the dog getting the best perspective. Wonderful find, Kate.

  7. I bet our dogs are just as seepy as those were! 🙂
    Dogs have been human companions for thousands of years, it would seem. Fortunately, in spite of that they don’t sink low enough to model their behaviour on that of the average human.

  8. Love Phil’s comment… I’ve wondered if we’re turning our pets into neurotic creatures, but you’ve assured me that our ways of loving our pets, too, is timeless.

  9. Love the photo bomb (dog poking head into picture from the side). Dogs are wonderful companions, loving us unconditionally. I think my two cats do as well. Sometimes, it’s hard to tell because they’re so independent. But then they bound over for some head rubbies … and I just know.

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