Scroll through social media and you’re bound to see tons of adorable dog pics. But before smart phone cameras and Instagram were even invented, William Wegman was cornering the market on amazing dog photos. He started photographing his Weimaraner in 1970, and he’s still at it nearly 50 years later.
Wegman didn’t think he was meant to be a pet owner. In one interview, he even said that he was “too busy as an artist and didn’t have time” to take care of an animal. But that all changed when he got his first Weimaraner in 1970. He named him Man Ray, after the famous American artist.
Wegman didn’t think he was meant to be a photographer, either. He got his BFA and MFA in painting. But after he began taking pictures of Man Ray, he knew he was on to something very special.
“Some dogs don’t like to be stared at. Man Ray required it. Surrounded by light-boxes that flanked the cyclopean eye of the big camera, he was truly at ease, never balking as I studied him for new possibilities,” he said in 2002.
The style of Wegman’s photographs is charming and immediately recognizable. His subjects are always Weimaraners, and they’re typically dressed in some sort of costume or paired with a prop. Wegman chose this type of dog specifically because they are trained for hunting and have the ability to sit very still.
His earliest photos of Man Ray show the dog in an empty studio in different positions. As the years progressed, Wegman began experimenting with different styles and techniques. He started taking short videos of his dog. In 1986, he got a new Weimaraner named Fay Ray, who he began photographing with a 20-by-24-inch Polaroid camera.
His work has been displayed in galleries across the world, and he has published 40 books. But he didn’t stop there. His canine masterpieces extended out from the art world and into popular culture, into shows like Sesame Street and Saturday Night Live. Everyone could appreciate his delightfully whimsical vision.
Wegman’s most recent book is called “William Wegman: Being Human.” This piece is a career retrospective that gathers some of the artist’s most iconic images alongside some previously unreleased works. The book is broken up into 16 different themes, some of which include “Stay,” “Nudes,” and “Vogue.”
The book features work from all different points of Wegman’s career and shows the 14 different Weimaraners he’s photographed over the years. Wegman currently still owns two Weimaraners named Flo and Topper, who he lives with in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York City.
Wegman’s work has stuck around for so long not just because we love looking at adorable dogs, but because his artistic vision keeps us coming back for more. His art challenges the distinction between human and animal and reminds us that we’re more like our furry friends than we might expect.
In an interview with Great Big Story, he remarked: “In my photographs, what I like people to see is that, yes, there is a dog. And yes, it’s a Weimaraner. But what has it become?”