After five weeks of photographing dogs for my Canines of Cairns project, I have reached my '100 dogs' milestone and then some. This week I met with Yaps and RSPCA dogs, rescue dogs, and dogs that were not expected to live, yet survived against great odds. I have met dogs who are the 'business cards' for their owners - Canine Training School and Cairns Dog Care and Training - and I have had the privilege of meeting greyhounds who have changed the racetrack for the backyard. I have met shy dogs, character dogs, wise dogs, fun dogs, ball-mad dogs, stick-mad dogs and cute-as-a-button dogs.
The one thing that all these different dogs have in common is that they are loved and give love in return. Over the last five weeks, I have come to observe and to recognise that the connection and bond between the two species is as strong and powerful as I had thought. Each dog’s story is as individual and interesting as the dog and their owner, but each is a reminder that there is something that supersedes logic and commonsense and takes the human/canine relationship into the realms of mystery and wonder.
Regardless of how this bond might be categorised or where it might be found, it is something that should not be taken for granted and should be celebrated. I am so grateful for all that have taken part in the process, who have let me peek into their special dog/human world for just a small time and capture that moment with a camera. I am changed from having met each and every one of you and your faithful, lovely companions.
A dear friend recently lost her mother and the task of clearing out a lifetime of memories from her mother's house was shared equally between herself and her sisters. In the process, my friend discovered and rescued a hand-typed notation on two very thin pages, yellowed with age and slightly eaten, entitled 'IN PRAISE OF THE DOG'. There is no indication of who painstakingly typed the words or who originally wrote them, but she kept the pages and passed them onto me.
Following are the precious words given to me ... the collector of dogs and all things canine ... and now shared with all.
"Gentlemen of the Jury, -- The best friend a man has in this world may turn against him and become his enemy. The son and daughter that he has reared with loving care may become ungrateful. Those nearest and dearest to us, those whom we trust with our happiness and our good name, may become traitors to their faith. The money a man has he may lose. It flies from him when he needs it most. Man's reputation may be sacrificed in a moment of ill-considered action. The people who are prone to fall upon their knees and do us honour when success is with us may be the first to throw the stone of malice when failure settles its cloud upon our heads.
"The one absolutely unselfish friend a man may have in this selfish world, the one that never deserts him, the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous, is his dog.
"A man's dog stands by him in prosperity and poverty, in health and in sickness. He will sleep on the cold ground, when the wintery winds blow and the snow drives fiercely. He will kiss the hand that has no food to offer. He will lick the sores and wounds that come from the encounter with the roughness of the world.
"When all other friends desert, he remains. When riches take wings and reputation falls to pieces, he is as constant in his love as the sun in its journey through the heavens. If fortune drives the master forth, an outcast, in the world, friendless and homeless, the faithful dog asks no higher privilege than that of accompanying him to guard him against danger, to fight his enemies. And when the last scene of all comes, and death takes his master in its embrace, and his body is laid away in the cold ground, no matter if all other friends pursue their way, there by his graveside will the noble dog be found, his head between his paws, and his eyes open in alertness, faithful and true even to death."
After three weeks underway, (minus a much needed weeks holiday in Bowen), Canines of Cairns has reached a milestone of sixty (60) dogs! After a busy week of photographing the largest number of dogs to date, there has not been a dog that I have not been charmed by, had my heart melted by, or walked away from without being made to feel uplifted, renewed and happy. While I feel I could continue on forever, 60 dogs means I am more than half-way to reaching my original end target of one hundred (100) participating dogs and their humans.
Over the next week, I will be busy working with award-winning, Melbourne-based, photogravure specialist, Silvi Glattauer. During this time, the images taken of all the canines over the last three weeks will be turned into etching plates and printed in anticipation of the 2016 exhibition. It will be an exciting and challenging process as I learn from Silvi and develop a deeper understanding of this non-toxic printmaking technology.
By this time next week, I will be even closer to a finalised outcome for my Canines of Cairns project. The anticipation is sweet and yet slightly sad; with that approaching goal comes an end to the time spent with the dogs and their owners. And really, that is what this project has been about - the capturing and understanding of what it means to love deeply and without conditions - humans and their best friends together. That is the part of this project that I have enjoyed the most and will also miss most once the 100 dogs have been captured.
Perhaps there is room for some more canines into the future? Or perhaps there should be more than 100 dogs?