A collective dog obsession has taken hold in the last year. Stuck at home through various lockdowns, often in isolation, the prospect of caring for a four-legged friend finally became a feasible reality for many people. According to the BBC, 3.2 million UK households have acquired a pet since the start of the pandemic, with cats and dogs remaining firm favourites. Scrolling through social media, it is clear that man’s best friend also has what it takes to be the ultimate influencer, whether it’s the fashion stylings of Tika the Iggy (who counts Whoopi Goldberg and the singer Lizzo among her legions of fans) or husky wolf mix Loki’s unending outdoor adventures.
A perfect time then, for Magnum to release Dog, a self-described “deliciously waggish compilation”, chronicling the many times the agency’s photographers have felt compelled to snap a hound or two. Richard Calvar, for example, has been capturing black-and-white images of canines across France since the 1970s, from good-natured beagles to ferocious guard dogs, while Martin Parr and Harry Gruyaert have documented the weird and wonderful world of competitive shows.
Companionship certainly forms the crux of these photographs, but it is amazing to see how much can be inferred from the mere presence of a pup. Pampered pets, carried in handbags or welcomed to the dinner table, allude to a certain affluence and self-consciousness on the part of the owners, whereas robust working breeds, depicted out in the elements, represent generations of co-dependent labour.
“It is amazing to see how much can be inferred from the mere presence of a pup”
The book is presented in loosely defined chapters, including It’s a Dog’s Life and Behind the Scenes, which features an array of showbiz glitterati and their furry friends, from Frida Kahlo with her faithful Xoloitzcuintli, to 1950s actress Jayne Mansfield, who is seen enjoying the company of a pair of Chihuahuas while sunbathing. While these categories create some narrative structure, the sheer variety of artistic styles, not to mention the subjects themselves, are beyond straightforward classification. Dogs, unlike any other domesticated animal, manage to maintain seemingly contradictory characteristics all at once, from outward aggression to unbridled, joyful idiocy. And Magnum’s photographers capture them all.