It’s a Dog’s Life : Capturing Animal Behaviour Through a Lens by Andy Hughes

In his first guest blog for Broad Conversation Andy Hughes, the author of ‘I, Jack Russell’, writes about the human-animal bond from a photographer’s perspective. All images are taken from Andy Hughes’ book, ‘I, Jack Russell’.

Andy will be joining us in conversation with renowned author  of ‘In Defence of Dogs’ Dr. John Bradshaw,  next week, on Wednesday 16th January at 7pm.  Tickets cost £3 and are available from our Customer Service Department, or over the phone on 01865 333623.



Photographers, artists, writers and other ‘creatives’ are diverse in motivation, interests, experiences and insights. Much of my photographic practice deals with issues concerning the marine and coastal environment, however recently, I realized or perhaps discovered by accident that I had many more images of my two dogs than I did of my family and friends and this lead to a new field of research. I began this project about Jack Russell dogs by looking to find as many family snapshots, which included our dogs. I found a few and these are included in my recent book I Jack Russell which attempts to encourage readers to think about their own snapshots of dogs and about the dog human bond.

Many people come across images (photographic ones) in their daily life. Ubiquitous to some and unique to others there are millions of photographic images in the word today. In Roland Barth’s seminal book Camera Lucida he coined the term punctum, this denotes a type of ‘wounding’, a sort of personal touching detail which establishes a direct relationship with the object or person within it. The re-discovery of my own family snapshots containing images my own pet dogs as a young child brought Barth’s concept sharply in focus and led me to enquire further leading me to a number of books which became key in my search to understand the relationship between people and dogs.
For instance, after reading John Bradshaw, Alexandra Horowitz and Mark Derr it became clear to me that my thinking about my own dogs and dogs in general was far from complete or fully developed. 

As well as published material, social networks such as DogBook that have photographic images of dogs seem as important to us as do images of other humans on Facebook. Collections of these images can often be found in our own albums or more readily in this day and age on our mobile phones or via our personal webpages. One very interesting historical survey can be seen in the book Dogs by Catherine Johnson where one can look at hundreds of images of dogs; it is a book filled with amateur, anonymous snapshots of dogs from the turn of the century to the early 1950s.

In I Jack Russell my motivations were driven by something more than simply capturing a sense of likeness. Something more akin to Barth’s concept. In a wonderful precise and short essay titled ‘Dogs’ Robert Adams  [1] beautifully describes various relationships between artists and their dogs. Two sentences in particular resonate.

‘Art depends on there being affection in its creator’s life, and an artist must find ways, like everyone else, to nourish it. A photographer down on his or her knees picturing a dog has found pleasure enough to make many things possible.’

‘Artists live by curiosity and enthusiasm, qualities readily evident as inspiration in dogs. Propose to a dog a walk and its response is absolutely yes.’ 

The bond between creative enterprise, artistic interpretation and the sciences are re-bonding and revealing new insights. Research into the relationship between the dog and human is set to continue  – we should all keep our nose to the blogosphere and bookshelf to help fully understand the dog and human world.

[1] Robert Adams: Why People Photograph: Selected Essays and Reviews, Aperture (1994)

Andy Hughes January 7. 2013-01-07

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