Pictures Worth a Thousand Comforting Words
by Cindie Farley
Chances are if you’re reading this article right now, your collection of family photos includes at least as many shots of your four-legged relatives as it does of the two-legged ones. Maybe even more. Looking back through the archives, there may be an image of grandpa as a boy, posing on the lawn with his Terrier, Wilson. Or perhaps great aunt Tillie sitting primly with her miniature Bulldog, Pansy.
Our family albums simply would not be complete if these furry members were left out. They are as much a part of our history as anyone else in the family tree. In many ways, our dogs add another dimension to our memories; one that can only bring a smile and a nostalgic sense of comfort.
That sense of comfort is what Catherine Johnson was hoping to provide in her beautiful book, Dogs. This amazing collection of vintage photos from the early 1900s to the post World War II era captures the many ways our dogs interact with us and enhance our lives. Well-selected quotes from the famous to the anonymous add a whimsical quality and note of humor that all dog lovers will appreciate. The book also includes an afterword by William Wegman, the world’s best-known photographer of dogs, primarily his beloved—and now famous--Weimaraners.
I had the opportunity to speak with Ms. Johnson, recently, to learn a little more about the story behind the book.
Catherine’s love of dogs began when she was allowed to pick one out from the pound for her fifth birthday. She brought home the one she thought needed her the most, a “wacky” Terrier she named Little Bob. He turned out to have an independent streak however, she recalls, and would go off “camping” by himself for days at a time.
Having Little Bob sparked Catherine’s captivation with the shared bond and admiration between people and their dogs. It would last a lifetime.
Before she could even read or write, she started her collection of dog images by selecting one as a family vacation memento, a 4 x 5 glossy picture of a beagle. Years later, she was inspired to seriously collect photographs of dogs while working for the legendary British photographer, Norman Parkinson.
After completing a portrait of a family who neither liked one another, nor being photographed, Parkinson commented, “If you’re shooting a difficult family portrait, pray the family has a dog and feature that animal front and center!” When viewing his contact sheets, Catherine understood what he meant. The family’s dog added energy and humor to the portrait.
As she collected photographs, she became aware of Parkinson’s theory, even in amateur snapshots. Whether the dogs were posing for dignified portraits, decked out in silly human trappings, or candidly being themselves, they provide the photos with a delightful and intimate warmth. A warmth that was no doubt felt by the people in the photos.
You can sense that warmth when looking at the timeless images in Catherine’s collection. Dogs, it seems, whether members of our own families or someone else’s, can help us to remember the best of our memories. That’s definitely comforting.
Catherine Johnson is a book and photography editor, branding consultant, and art producer. She lives in New York with her two toy Fox Terriers, Lula and Dixie. She thinks there should be dog food stamps for families in need.
Dogs is available through Amazon.com.