Since the 1970s, William Wegman has been photographing his dogs in costumes and poses that are both funny and unsettling. It was all to do with ‘putting the ordinary out of sync’
William Wegman did not start his art career wanting to photograph dogs. But dogs, it turned out, wanted to be photographed by him. His first great muse, a Weimaraner called Man Ray, noodled around in front of the camera until Wegman decided to click the shutter. That was in 1970. Wegman had grown up in the 1950s obsessed by a droll comedy duo, Bob and Ray; suddenly he had a sidekick of his own. He and Man Ray already visited galleries and bars together. Now they started making photos and videos, too, revelling in a kind of spare and poetic slapstick. “He was a great dog for that,” says Wegman wistfully. “Really serious and so concentrated and funny.”
We are in a large sunlit room in Maine, so far north that we are practically in Canada. Wegman has been giving me a grand tour of his lakeside retreat, a converted hotel from 1889 and an Aladdin’s cave of props and costumes that collectively make for an illustrated timeline of his long career. Below us, a lake sparkles silver through the trees. Two dogs – Flo and Topper – occupy a sofa, settling into poses that demonstrate the elegant form and posture that makes them such camera-loving subjects. Aged eight and seven, they are the latest in a line of Weimaraners that have fixed Wegman in the public imagination as dog whisperer supreme. As he points out, “They like to be tall, which is why it’s easy to work with them.” There’s often something a little discombobulating about them, especially when draped in full-length gowns or suits. They have canine features, but human affectations, like mythological creatures that exist in dreams.
At art school I became much more of a regular person. I had girlfriends