Martin Usborne is a self-professed "massive dog lover," but his work — a series of portraits depicting dogs left behind in cars — is about much more than that. "I remember being left in the car as a kid," he explains in his project video. "And although that was never for very long, there was that huge fear that noone would ever come back. And that fear of being alone and without a voice stayed with me throughout much of my childhood... This image of a dog looking out a car window seems to capture that feeling precisely." Paging through the images, one is struck by their aesthetic cohesion: each is shot in low light, during the evening, in an empty place, and imparts a sense of near tangible loneliness. But they're also elegantly composed, dream-like, and possessing a poignant kind of hope. Usborne is fine with the fact that people may laugh, because he wants the project to be ultimately uplifting. He's also certain that if his project is funded, he'll be able to deliver the most beautiful book his backers have ever seen. Here's hoping!
Who are the dogs? They are all dogs that I found either by walking my own dogs and meeting owners ( in and around London, UK) or from friends who have dogs or from posting requests on Facebook etc. I chose the dogs not by breed but by how I responded to their features, if I felt they expressed something unusual/striking. As the series gained momentum people started writing to me asking to be involved.
Are the images premeditated? Yes, it's important to say that the images are staged. As I said in my KS post I did start trying to find dogs in cars incidentally but thankfully in the UK that is not very easy. I remember walking around a supermarket [parking lot] looking and when I saw no dogs in cars I made barking noises in the hope that sleeping dogs might look up — I realized what it must look like to see a man with a camera walking round a car park barking and decided to stop before they put me away. The phrase "barking mad" comes to mind. But in the end these pictures are not documentary, they are trying to evoke a mood and so are carefully lit and managed. I want them to be cinematic and dream-like.
Any amusing anecdotes from the shoots? A fair few. Probably the most ridiculous was when I had two huskies in one car (actually I started with five in the car and they tried to pull it to the arctic). They were so manic I just couldn't photograph them. The two dogs moved so fast they kept hitting the horn with their butts — we were outside a housing estate at 11pm and waking people up with butt-beeping dogs. We tried everything — ham, noises, faces — to try and get their attention. Eventually the owner said the only thing they really like is hearing Sinead O'Connors "Nothing Compares 2 U". I ended up playing it at full volume from another car stereo. The neighbors must have thought we were officially insane but the dogs calmed right down and we got the shot.
What do you think people don't know about your project that would surprise them? Probably that it has taken two years with no budget — each shot requires finding a dog, a car, and a location and getting them all together at the right moment. In return I give them a small print, people have been SOOOO willing to help. They say don't work with animals but I find it easier than shooting people (who I often photograph for magazines), dogs are so emotionally honest, revealing, and uncontrived. I love taking their portraits. I use up to four lights on each shoot and have used both film and digital cameras. To start with, I used incredibly extensive flash lighting but in the end found the best results came from super cheap continuous lights that I had my assistant hand hold. It allowed me to be very fluid and respond to the dogs' every movements. The shot on the beach — attached — took me three days to get, going to the beach with a large plate camera at 4am to wait for the perfect light. On the day when the light was perfect the owner of the dog accidentally hit an owl on the road and was delayed. We had to take feathers off the car before we could photograph it. Crazy.