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.