It’s a dog’s life

Heya! Try shaking these like a Polaroid picture. They’re internationally acclaimed artist William Wegman’s large-scale Polaroid photographs of Weimaraner dogs. Wegman’s 28 pieces, all completely focused on Weimaraners, stir up a mixture of jovial feelings. Wegman’s exhibit of overlarged photos are on view through November 4 at the Silver Eye Center for Photography in conjunction with Animal Friends, a Pittsburgh organization focused on finding loving homes for cats and dogs.

Wegman’s exhibit captures and portrays Weimaraner dogs assuming human responsibilities. The exhibit features dogs on rollerblades, dogs exercising, dogs kayaking, dogs in costume, dogs watching movies, dogs in makeup — dogs exploring a whole spectrum of human activities and emotions. Looking at these large-scale Polaroid picture generates a deeper appreciation of how a dog truly can be a man’s best friend.

“When most of us think of a photograph, we think of the possibility of having an infinite number of prints. What is so special about these 20-by-24-inch photographs by William Wegman is that there is only one print,” said Linda Benedict-Jones, executive director of the Silver Eye. “When Polaroid calls them ‘unique’ prints, or ‘one-of-a-kind’ prints, they mean that they are good, but they also mean that there are no others.... There is no negative with a Polaroid 20-inch-by-24-inch print, and so the positive, or the print, is, by definition, the only image that exists. So if the public has seen Wegman prints before, chances are they have never seen these because these have never before come to Pittsburgh.”

In 1979, Polaroid invited Wegman to participate in The Polaroid Collection. Wegman used Polaroid cameras that weighed 235 pounds, were five feet tall, and took 70 seconds to develop a photo; Wegman described the cameras he used as a mesh between a refrigerator and a cello. As a part of the invitation, Wegman donated one of his pieces to add to the national Polaroid collection.

Wegman’s style appeals to a wide range of audiences, from children to art critics. Amanda Bloomfield, the membership and public relations coordinator of the Silver Eye gallery, said, “The gallery is wonderful because as visitors browse, they laugh. It catches the attention of so many people: museum-goers, dog lovers, the young, the old, and anyone just walking down the street.” The gallery maintained a lighthearted nature, and it was refreshing to watch families and friends laughing, pointing, and explaining the humor behind each piece.

Every photo in the exhibit has its own little joke. In some of the photos the humor is very obvious: Wegman’s dog Man Ray in rollerskates (“Rolleramer,” 1987); a physically-fit dog on a fitness bicycle (“Stud,” 2000). In other photographs the humor is more subtle: in “Faye and Andrea” you have to look closer to realize that Faye, the dog, has fake eyelashes; in the piece “Mantle,” the two dogs are hidden in the stonework such that if you don’t look closely, you may miss them. The hidden elements in the photographs provide for a photographic adventure full of twists and quirks.

Wegman uses his dogs Man Ray and Faye, and Faye’s puppies Battina, Crooky, and Chundo, as well as Battina’s son Chip, Chip’s sons Bobbin and Candy, and Bobbin’s daughter as models in his pieces. Wegman’s dogs are his muses, his models; he knows what his dogs are and aren’t comfortable doing, and one of Wegman’s primary concerns is making sure that his dogs feel comfortable with each shot.

Wegman started out as just a painter, but has now achieved international recognition through his experimentation with photographs, paintings, drawings, and videos that have been in shows and galleries worldwide; art and animal fanatics alike can appreciate any of Wegman’s work. On Wednesday, October 11, from 7 to 8:30 p.m., there will be a screening of Wegman’s video art. It’s definitely worth checking out, but be sure to bring a can of dog or cat food in order to be registered for a chance to win a book of Wegman’s work — all animal food (and proceeds) will be donated to Animal Friends.