Shelter dogs are a pretty common subject for photographic portraits and photo essays. We’ve seen a lot of different takes on the topic, and although it may arouse sneers from certain art snobs, it’s not a trivial subgenre. The right portrait can mean the difference between life and death for a dog, as the works of Nanette Morton or LaNola Stone aptly demonstrate.
But most of those photos, regardless of style, have one thing in common: They focus exclusively on the dogs. If human beings appear in them at all, they’re far in the background, almost as an accident of placement or cropping.
Photographer Jesse Freidin is taking an entirely different approach to photographing shelter dogs. In his new project, Finding Shelter, the people and the dogs are equally important in every image. The people in his series of portraits are the ones who are most responsible for caring for shelter dogs until they find their forever homes: The shelter volunteers.
Shot in black-and-white against a white background, the photos are quite striking: They’re not depictions of people or of dogs, but of the relationship between the two. It’s a relationship that’s lasted and developed over thousands of years, and why we see dogs as being more than just another adorable animal. It’s why dog lovers think of their animals as friends and family.
To Freidin, one of the most important points of Finding Shelter is that the relationship isn’t a one-way street. The dogs rely on volunteers for food and shelter, but the volunteers rely on the dogs as well:
What I began seeing as I started photographing Finding Shelter was that the volunteers were not only interested in simply sharing their affection with the animals, they equally needed the love that the shelter animals gave back… The silent love a shelter dog gives to the human who cares for him is truly healing, making an animal shelter a place for humans and animals to heal together. Though the topic is never actually discussed, volunteers find an environment of support and friendship within their relationships with the abandoned animals that keeps them coming back.
Freidin already has accumulated a wide variety of shots showing volunteers and shelter dogs, but he’s launched a Kickstarter page to take the project even further. He’s mapped out a travel plan to photograph 150 volunteers in 12 different locations across the United States. In an excellent example of the paradoxes that creative artists face in the modern era, Freidin says that he has a publisher interested in the book — but he has to pay for travel and other expenses himself.
I generally consider the old adage about a picture being worth a thousand words to be trite BS that disrespects my own craft of writing, but in this case, the work speaks for itself better than anything that I could write here. What do you think? Are these pics worth throwing a few dollars toward the photographer to make more? You can also check out a video at the bottom where Freidin talks about the work himself.
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