Is there an existential link between overly tattooed hipsters in Brooklyn and lavishly groomed dogs sporting high-end doggie designer fashion? The New York City-based photographer Paul Nathan believes so, having shot both subjects for recent book projects.
“The underlying theme throughout all of my books and photography is identity and how transformation affects your identity,” explains Paul, whose latest coffee-table tome is Groomed, which showcases primped Poodles and elaborately coiffed Cocker Spaniels. “That theme remains whether it’s self-imposed like tattoos or a style imposed upon a dog.”
Having started out in the world of fashion photography, Paul segued over to photographing high-end dogs three years ago. The first fruits of his canine crossover was Couture Dogs of New York, which was published last year and offered a glimpse into the upper echelons of New York dog society.
With Groomed being released earlier this month, I spoke to Paul about dealing with growling Komondors, doggie behavior on set and photographing canine nuptials.
Dogster: Have you found any similarity between photographing dogs and models?
Paul Nathan: Yes, the two subjects can be very similar. When I shoot look-books I shoot a lot of models, maybe two or three hundred different ones a day, so I have the lighting set up to get it done as quickly as possible, and the setup also works for shooting dogs. I pretty much know the shot I want as soon as I see the dog so I prepare it in a certain way.
Do you have any tips for getting the dogs to stay still when you’re photographing them?
I just try and work really quickly! I guess the trick would be to get really comfortable with your setup, and usually it helps if the dog’s owner is behind me if at all possible.
Who’s better behaved on a shoot, dogs or models?
Well, fashion models I think. They just do what I tell them to do because it’s their job, whereas the dogs don’t have a job, they just enjoy the attention.
Have you found that certain breeds of dog are more enthusiastic about being photographed?
I guess older dogs are easier to shoot than younger dogs, but as far as breeds, most of the ones I photograph are kind of medium-sized dogs. I was also with a groomer in southern New Jersey and we were shooting some Komondors — that was the first time I was scared. They’re large dogs and they’re strong and they’re also extremely territorial and want to protect their house — and they don’t like strangers. There was definitely some guttural growling going on that made me feel nervous!
How did you deal with the growling Komondors?
I just worked really quickly! There were about four or five of them and I said, “Okay, let’s shoot the old guy …” It kind of worked. But on the other end, Poodles are incredibly expressive when you shoot them. They are probably the easiest dogs I’ve worked with.
What’s the most extravagant place you’ve photographed a dog?
Well, I was at a dog wedding and it was full-on: They had six boy dogs and six girl dogs as the wedding entourage, like with bridesmaids, and they were all dressed up. The wedding cake and catering was more elaborate than most people have. Then after I did the shoot, the husband and wife dog — how do I put this? — well, they copulated! They just couldn’t help themselves.
Does photographing dogs in these situtations ever seem surreal?
Yes, totally — I think that’s why I go! It’s the most unexpected and surprising spectacle. It’s totally surreal and an enormous amount of fun. The doggie fashion designers put an enormous amount of effort into their work and always put so much fun into their work, too.
How much do some of the designer doggie outfits cost?
Hundreds and hundreds of dollars, maybe $1,500 for some of the really over-the-top ones.
Are you working on any other dog-based photography projects?
Actually, I think my next book will be a cat book — my wife and I had the idea for a children’s book about a cat. But I do have a lot of dog pictures and I’m always thinking of ideas for them. I’m not a groomer and I don’t know anything about grooming, but my first book [Generation Ink] was about tattooed hipsters in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and the underlying theme throughout all of my books and photography is identity and how transformation affects your identity. That theme remains whether it’s self-imposed like tattoos or a style imposed upon a dog.
So, with the shots in Groomed, I think my objective for shooting them was that I was drawn to how much of the character of the dog remains after the groomer has done their work. So the pictures are hopefully reaching a deeper aspect of the dog’s character.
So would you say there’s a link between fancily groomed dogs and tattooed hipsters?
There is! That’s exactly my interest in the transformation aspect of both of them.
Do you have any plans to combine the two subjects?
Maybe! I’m always working on ideas …
See more of Paul’s work at his website.
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About Phillip Mlynar: The self-appointed world’s foremost expert on rappers’ cats. When not penning posts on rap music, he can be found building DIY cat towers for his adopted domestic shorthair, Mimosa, and collecting Le Creuset cookware (in red). He has also invented cat sushi, but it’s not quite what you think it is.