“I have to pretend the other dog can pose, or they’ll get jealous

Dogs in a suit or training jacket, with boots or pearl necklace, posing in an almost humane pose. William Wegman’s photos are both funny and disruptive. Starting this weekend, the Fotomuseum Den Haag presents an overview of Wegman’s work with the name: Being Human.

For forty years Weimarse dogs have been models for Wegman’s Polaroid photos. Often with clothes on, giving them something human:

During the video call with Wegman from his studio in Maine, a dog’s head quickly pops up. Immediately, the artist proudly points the camera at his two Weimarse dogs. “This is Topper and this is his sister Flo. As soon as they enter my studio they stare at me, asking: ‘And, what’s the plan for today? To keep them from getting jealous of each other, I always have to pretend that the other one is allowed to pose too.”

The exhibition in The Hague gives an overview of almost all the dogs that Wegman has had since 1970, he says. “You see them in all kinds of different outfits as human beings, as animals and as abstract objects.”

It all started for Wegman with the dog Man Ray who happened to sit in front of his camera. This is how he discovered the posing talent of the Weimaraner, a typical hunting dog.

Posing sitting on a chair, with the front legs on the back? A piece of cake for this Weimaraner

“Wegman sees the dogs as his partners or muse,” says curator Willemijn van der Zwaan. “They inspire him and they really make the pictures together. In a crazy way it’s a pretty balanced relationship.”

Underdog

Although Wegman has been painting, drawing and filming since the sixties and became known as a conceptual artist, the general public knows him mainly from his dog photos. He calls his other work jokingly the underdog.

Van der Zwaan explains that Wegman wants to hold up a mirror to people. “Through the dogs he shows his vision of mankind. We see certain archetypes, such as the hairdresser or the farmer’s boy, and sometimes we discover that we are not really that special at all. He also refers to movements in art history such as Cubism. Typical are the use of colour and humour”

Temperamental

Wim van Roessel got a preview of the exhibition. He is also chairman of the Weimarse Standing Dog Association. Next to him is the delighted Weimaraner Yalta, somewhat nervous about her first visit to the museum. For this one time, a dog is allowed in the museum.

Van Roessel points to a photo: “The nice thing is that Wegman tries to show the Weimaraner as a human being, even though you know it is a dressed up dog. He also shows how relaxed the animal is. That is clever because it is a temperamental dog. So Wegman has trained them well from puppyhood.”

Van Roessel tells us that he and his members would rather the exhibition did not increase the demand for Weimaraners. “People only look at its appearance and see it as a fashion dog. They forget what kind of character they get. They are intelligent dogs that need to be mentally stimulated all the time. It’s a shame if they have to be rehomed after a year.”

Meanwhile Yalta walks through the museum a bit more self-consciously. Yet she seems to find the people in the room more interesting than the artistic photographs of her kind.

When asked whether the dogs themselves have any artistic feelings, William Wegman is certain: “Absolutely not! Fortunately, I never have to argue with them about what I do. They just accept it.”

The photographs of William Wegman can now be seen in the Fotomuseum Den Haag. Just to be sure: leave your dog at home. Only guide dogs or assistance dogs are allowed.