Vancouver art gallery goes to the dogs with furry photography show

Dog Days features top Canadian and international photographers — and opens the doors to four-legged visitors.

Dog Days features top Canadian and international photographers — and opens the doors to four-legged visitors

Elliott Erwitt's iconic photograph New York, 1974 is one of the images in Dog Days, a new exhibition at North Vancouver's Polygon Gallery. (Elliott Erwitt)

Canadians may be headed into the dog days of summer, but one of the Vancouver area's top art galleries is taking that idea more literally than most.

North Vancouver's Polygon Gallery is presenting Dog Days, an exhibition of photography and video that includes art photographs, photojournalism, archival images and more, all of them involving humans' best friends.

Polygon assistant curator Justin Ramsey says dogs are especially compelling photography subjects because humans' relationship with them is so long, and so deeply intertwined.

Chester with Hounds is by photographer Shelby Lee Adams, best known for his images of Appalachian life. (Shelby Lee Adams)

"I don't think there's an animal that humanity is really closer to. Commercially viable photography goes back about 180 years, and some estimates put our relationship to domesticated dogs at tens of thousands of years," says Ramsey.

"And for as long as we've had cameras we've been photographing dogs because they're beautiful, we have this strong emotional connection to them, they're hard labourers, sometimes they're heroic. So we have a long history and culture of portraying dogs in many different ways and in different facets of their life and work."

Dog Days also includes many archival and press photographs, including this image titled Safeway Stores Ltd. No. 1 by Percy Bentley, taken in 1939 and borrowed from the Vancouver Public Library's collection. (Percy Bentley)

The show includes iconic images by photographer and Magnum Photos member Elliott Erwitt, whose name might not be instantly recognizable, but his photographs certainly are — especially Dogs, which is a perfect study in contrast of dog sizes. (See photo at top.)

Dogs regularly appear in the work of renowned photographer Shelby Lee Adams, best known for her work capturing Appalachian family life, while Eadweard Muybridge's groundbreaking studies in locomotion include a woman interacting with a canine.

Eadweard Muybridge was known for his studies of locomotion, including this series of images from 1897 called Feeding a Dog. (Eadweard Muybridge)

William Wegman aimed to become a painter, but became famous for his images of dogs, mostly his Weimaraners, in various costumes and poses.

"He did this really eccentric series that was like an illustrated edition of Cinderella, and all of the illustrations were his dogs posing as the characters. So you've got this frontispiece from that with Cinderella as a dog with her hand on a broom and her foot up on this pillow with the glass slipper. So that's kind of a kooky photograph," says Ramsey with a laugh, adding that the exhibition also includes one of Wegman's video works.

Contemporary Canadian photographers in the exhibition include Order of Canada recipient Nina Raginsky, Emily Carr University professor emerita Marian Penner Bancroft, and Terra Poirier, known for her pinhole camera images.

Despite being a chihuahua, late artist Garry Lewis James Osterberg has an impressive CV — thanks in part to his owner, award-winning Canadian photographer Shari Hatt. (Shari Hatt)

Also included is work by award-winning artist Shari Hatt, who has done portraits of dogs belonging to everyone from the Duke and Duchess of York to fashion designer Alexander McQueen, as well as her own Chihuahua, the late artist Garry Lewis James Osterberg, whom Hatt says is Canada's first canine artist.

"She would really give him ownership of his projects, the work that was based around him or co-created with him, and she always made sure to credit him as an artist," says Ramsey.

"He's got this really interesting CV, and even awards under his own name. So he's this interesting little artist in the exhibition alongside Shari."

Also included in the show is a range of photojournalism, both Canadian and international, from the early 20th century to recent years.

Featuring more than 70 still images and videos, Dog Days was inspired by a successful 2007 show called To The Dogs at Presentation House Gallery — the Polygon's former home — and is meant to attract people to the striking new waterfront space, which opened last year beside Lonsdale Quay.

David Strongman photographed Tiny on the set of Pup Star. (David Strongman)

On particular days, photographers Shari Hatt and Geoffrey Wallang are offering fine art portraits of people's pooches, and dog owners are welcome to bring their four-legged friends into the exhibition area for the duration of the show.

"We really see the intimacy between people and their dogs, whether it's these ornate historical photographs that are elaborately framed or ... the sheer multitude of dog memes on the Internet nowadays," says Ramsey. "What this exhibition reminds us of is our preoccupation with dogs has never really gone away. It only grows stronger, and I think that the camera is definitely a way that we explore that and document it.

"Whether for fine art photographers or for somebody just doing vernacular photography with their own camera, dogs have consistently been one of our favourite photographic subjects — and they probably always will be."

Dog Days is at the Polygon Gallery in North Vancouver until Sept. 1.