How NOT to photograph a dog

I have a bone to pick today.

It has to do with dogs and photography...surprise, surprise!

Have you ever seen photos of the winning dogs at a field trial or dog show?

Field photos are invariably of a group of tired, mud-spattered handlers and judges lined up in front of a win-blown banner for the Choke 'N Puke Dog Biscuit Company or something. For some reason the handlers insist on trying to "stack" the dog to look like an American Pointer on point....high head and tail. It ends up looking like the dog is about to be examined by an ear, nose and throat surgeon on one end and a proctolgist on the other. And it seems that the photo is always taken while the dogs fidget, the handlers chat and the wind catches the banner just right, warping it to look like it reads "Midwestern...Dog...Puke...Championship".

Show photos are usually done by a "pro" with all the fancy lights and cameras. Yet no matter how good the gear or the photographer the pictures are always the same: a proud-as-a-peacock handler wearing the latest in really loud fashions (preferable with cleavage till tuesday) strangling a dog that looks for all the world like it is about to choke and puke.

And don't even get me started on those poor, humilated dress-up dogs of William Wigman. The artist-turned-marketing machine has churned out thousands of cutesy photos of dogs as Sesame Street meat-puppets and in so doing has accomplished two things: he has become very wealthy and, in my humble opinion, he has done more damage to the breed than rabies.

Why did this fellow, a pretty decent artist, and for all I know a nice guy, have to choose the Weimaraner? Why couldn't he turn his attention to a breed that is already screwed? Aren't there any cute tea-cup poodles out there that are actually bred to be dressed up as Cinderella?

Good ol Willy chose the Weimaraner because "they are pointing dogs so they are used to standing still for long periods of time". I kid you not. He actually said that (or something to that effect). Anyone with a Weimaraner, especially if the dog came from one of the many puppy mills out there serving the market Wigman helps to perpetuate, will tell you that their Weimaraner would rather spin and spazz than actually stand still for more than a quarter of a second. OR at least until the prozac kicks in... on both ends of the leash.

Now I must admit that I kinda like some of the photos. Certainly the ones where the dogs are "au natural" are pleasing to look at (the dress up ones are just plain wrong). Lord knows I take lots of photos of my dogs and I even sell the prints to collectors. No, it is not really the photos that bug me. What really gets me is the Wigman effect on the breed as a whole.

No one knows just how many Weimaraners are in shelters and in the hands of overworked rescue committee members right now, today, as a direct result of cheap Weim merchandise being pumped out by the Wigman International Corporation 24/7.

But I bet that if we did know the real number and the real damage done to the breed it would be enough to make more than a few people choke and puke.


The satirical post above was recently dredged up in a thread on Reddit and now that I re-read it, I can see where some of the negative comments sent my way may be justified. It seems that my critique of William Wegman's work featuring Weimaraners may have been a bit over the top and has touched a nerve or two.

One poster in particular seems to disagree with me. He/she wrote that my criticism of Wegman was "entirely unsupported and unfair". And he/she is partially right. I have no published, peer reviewed statistics to support my position that Wegman's work has greatly increased the popularity of the Weimaraner (especially among non-hunters). So yes, what I wrote was unsupported, but not entirely. You see, I've been in the breed long enough to know more than just a few people who chose the Weimaraner specifically because of Wegman's work. Fortunately, for most of those people, things worked out. They got decent dogs from decent breeders. But anecdotal evidence of things 'not working out' is easy to come by. Contact just about any Weim rescue group and ask them about why they are so often overwhelmed with discarded dogs. I am pretty sure they will tell you that among other reasons (divorce, moving etc.) a lot of Weims are discarded because they were purchased on a whim and after a while things just 'didn't work out'. And then ask yourself, what could inspire such a whim? My guess is that seeing Weims dressed and acting like humans on TV or in a book or poster etc. has lead to more than just a few families jumping on the Weim bandwagon...and then bailing when they realize that their dog is a dog, a high energy, super smart, dog... and nothing like the dress-up toy they saw on Sesame Street.

When I dress up my Weims, it's camo neoprene!
So my main criticism of the work of William Wegman, regardless of its artistic merit, is that it has almost certainly contributed to a massive increase in the popularity of Weimaraners over the last 20 years or so. And any massive, sudden increase in the popularity of any breed is almost never a good thing. Just ask the Dalmation folks what happened after 101 Dalmations came out. When a breed becomes massively popular, for whatever reason, things almost always go sideways, fast. They sure did for the Weim (for the second time in its history in the US). From just a hand full of pups whelped in the US in the late 40s,  there are now probably more than 10 thousand Weims pups whelped in the US every year. Some are from good breeders and they end up in good homes. But many others aren't and don't. Puppy mills love the breed because they know they can sell Weims as fast as they can produce them, at steep prices.

Blaze orange is also a Weim friendly colour
Now, I could go on and on about other problems in the breed such as health issues, lack of hunting abilities etc. that can also be linked to an increase in popularity, but there is an important point that I probably should have made more clearly in the original post. So let me just say, for the record, that the contribution made by Wegman to the massive increase in the popularity of the Weimaraner was almost certainly an unintentional consequence of an artist just doing what artists do. Wegman makes a very good living by creating appealing works of art. And good on him! I hope Mr. Wegman, who by all accounts is a fine fellow, continues to make art and continues to enjoy the fruits of his labour for many years to come. But that does not change the fact that when it comes to dog breeds, the actions of well-known figures in the art world, politics, show business etc. can lead to significant problems. And sadly, the well-known figure is very often completely unaware of the problem. Clearly Wegman loves his dogs and I am sure they have a great life. But does he know how much his work has contributed to the popularity of the breed? Does he know how many problems the breed now faces due to such huge popularity?

One final note. I don't mind criticism. I have a thick skin. I can take a shot, deserved or not. So bring it on. But here's a pro tip: if you want to call someone out on Reddit for making "entirely unsupported and unfair" accusations, you might want to avoid writing, in the very same thread, things like "Craig is also a libellous prick." and "This guy is such an asshole.. he calls himself a photographer too, eh! He's just some guy with a camera compared to Wegman." Otherwise the whole "libellous prick" thing becomes rather self-referential, no?
Artist's rendering of a Reddit discussion about Weimaraners


  1. Ah... Vindication! A hunting dog's place is in full body contact with its owner :-)..

    Seriously though, I've been in the show ring (it was the only way to get the only female of the litter) and at a hunt test, and in many ways there are the same. But it comes from what is on the other end of the lead.

    But having been there and seeing it in magazines... one more side shot of a stacked dog.. or one more photo of a dog dressed in drag.... Why?

    One of the BEST photographs I have seen of a dog... a certain female Weimeraner... expressed more human qualities and emotions than any clothing or theatrical tricks.

  2. P.S. I LOVED the "Midwestern...Dog...Puke...Championship"

  3. Do you mean William Wegman? ;)

  4. I don't have a problem with the original intent of Wegman. From what I've read of interviews with him he didn't get Man Ray with the intent to photograph, it just developed (bad pun intended). It was an Artist relating to his dog. I do think though that he milked his success and it's a runaway train. I personally don't much like his dress-up photo's because I used to be a costume designer and worked in theatre. I just don't find the set ups to be that good. They mostly seem pointless to me. I do enjoy some of his work, mostly his earlier work and as you say some that are "au natural"

    I sometimes do fanciful photoshop collages with plain photo's that I've taken of Ellie. I'm a Graphic Artist and I love to photograph my Weim. The two passions were bound to collide.

    Am I also doing a dis-service to Weimaraners? Are artists responsible for the outcome of their success? What about the creators of past stories such as Rin Tin Tin, Jack London's Call of the Wild? I guess at least those dog's were doing things more in line with their true nature. Would the writer of "Curious George" be responsible if everyone ran out and bought a Chimp (monkey, whatever)?

    Perhaps we become responsible when we start to exploit our success. Perhaps that's where the distinction is with Wegman. It does feel like he's left behind any Artistic exploration he had and is now just exploiting any dress up the Weim situation he can.

  5. Gnomeself Be TrueWednesday, March 29, 2006

    I'm in agreement, for the most part. I doubt anyone starts out with exploitation in mind. I doubt 3 people could agree on what exploitation is.
    I have to wonder what would happen if I stumbled on a gimmick that propelled Chessies to the top of the popular heap. Would I be able to turn down the William Wegman path to fame and fortune?

  6. I love photographing my dog and Weim photos in general.
    I don't however like Mr. Wegman "fancy dress and whig" photos. I cant think of a more inappropriate way of depicting a Weim. I think it helps create a very wrong and ultimately damaging idea of the Weimaraner as beautiful dog who is willing and happy to sit and stay put and balance himself on his hind legs on a Louis XIV chair.
    People who choose the Weim as a pet based on its looks and pretty much nothing else then panic after the first couple of weeks because they cannot understand the dog's "hyperactive, derranged" (I'm quoting) behaviour.
    I'm sure Mr. Wegman does not mean any harm. But once he has understand the extent of his work's impact he must realize he now has a responsability towards the breed and act upon it.