For the fifth(!) year in a row, I'm honored to serve as an embedded photojournalist on the front lines of the dog show circuit. Here's my dispatch from day one.
Ah, yes, Westminster, the time of year that precisely no one besides me looks forward to. (AJ: "You're not going to the dog show again." Me: "Yes I am.") Despite my editor's reticence, I've carved out something of a niche at MSG — in the sense that anyone with a big-ass camera will be treated like royalty by the dog owners, in the hopes that their little poopsies might end up on a magazine cover somewhere. They're a little disappointed when I say where I'm from (Owner: "Dead spin? Like, death 'dead?' What is that?"), but I'm still media, and they're still going to do anything to make sure I get a good shot.
To that end, I'd like to present a handy guide for dog show owners and handlers to help them help me. Here's what you've got to do to get your pooch featured in this space.
If your dog looks me in the eye (or rather, lens), I will take a picture of it. Much like the old Hollywood maxim, there's nothing more frustrating than taking photos of children and animals. And at least kids have some concept of how cameras work. The dogs could care less. I snapped about a thousand photos today, and ended up with roughly 30 usable ones.
So when I find a dog who will make eye contact for a few seconds, and hold still long enough for me to get at least once decent shot, I'm eternally grateful. The owners sense this too: they'll dispatch a child to stand behind me, waving a toy or treat to get the dog to look in my general direction. It's a nice try, but the camera knows the difference between "general direction" and "I'm honestly interested in your camera lens, because I haven't decided whether it's edible yet." Give me the latter, and everybody's happy.
If your dog has an interesting name or backstory, I will take a picture of it. Hand to god, this is an actual conversation with the owner of this Shar Pei:
Me: What's his name?
Owner: Robert De Niro.
Me: Oh, that's funny, because he's all wrinkly and droopy like De Niro?
Owner: No, because Analyze This was on TV while he was being conceived.
If your dog's breed it famous because of something in pop culture, I will take a picture of it. Oh, like I'm not going to photograph a Beagle in a Snoopy bed?
Unfortunately, I can tell you firsthand that life with a Beagle isn't all suspense novel-writing and Red Baron-fighting. Mostly it's the Beagle barking at me nonstop until I'm huddled in a corner crying, "Just tell me what you want!"
If your dog is wearing something incongruous with the personality I've come up with for it, I will take a picture of it. Big wrinkly Chow Chow wearing an Elmo bib? Oh hell yes.
Slow saggy Basset Hound with a pink floral headwrap? Sold.
If there are two of you, that's freaking adorable and I will take a picture of you. One little fuzzy wiener thing? Fine. Cute. Dime a dozen. But two of them, hanging out together, probably cracking jokes at the other dogs who walk by? Golden.
See, it works for any breed. Although I particularly like these two standing next to a man's suit jacket, because I like to believe they snuck into MSG on each other's shoulders, dressed up as a human.
If your dog is in the middle of being groomed, I will take a picture of it. Let me transcribe what I wrote down in my notebook after photographing this Keeshond: "Who's a messy puppy! Who's a messy puppy! You are! Yes you are! Yes you are!"
If your dog looks miserable to be there, I will take a picture of it. Look, backstage at Westminster is hot, cramped, smelly and full of dog people. Much like how a beat writer seems to have a dream job yet hates their life, by a certain point of the afternoon I just kind of want to be out of there.
So give me a dog, ideally one that's already a grumpy Winston Churchill, stick him in front of a fan, and you've kind of got your microcosm for how I look and feel after a few hours of working the dog show...
...Drool bubbles and all. More tomorrow.