Though Charlotte Dumas focuses on animals in her sensitive photographic portraits, her work is as much about their human keepers as it is about them. As she explains: “I would venture to say that my work is totally about humans, insofar as we reflect ourselves in animals.” Informed by what she calls the “traditional ingredients” of 17th-century Dutch painting, Dumas approaches her work exquisitely attuned to composition, light, and the poses of classical portraiture. She works in series, based on themes drawn from life and literature, and has captured police and military horses, wolves in the wild, tigers in captivity, and stray and working dogs. By shooting these animals at a range that allows intimacy without invasiveness, Dumas effectively humanizes them. Open and inscrutable, their faces and bodies express an uncanny psychological depth, which seems both innate and ascribed.
Immediately following the attacks of 9/11, nearly 100 trained search dogs and their handlers were deployed by FEMA to assist in the rescue efforts at the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. Enlisted from a network of 26 task forces in 18 states around the U.S., the dogs worked around the clock to locate survivors in the rubble, alongside firemen and other teams sorting through the debris. One decade later, Dutch photographer Charlotte Dumas succeeded in tracking down 15 of the surviving dogs that took part in these rescue operations, visiting and photographing the dogs at their homes throughout the U.S., where they all still lived with their handlers. Composed at close range in natural light, Dumas’ powerful portraits—reproduced here in a thoughtfully designed paperback volume with Japanese binding—offer an intimate view into the everyday lives of these highly specialized working animals, now sharing the vulnerability of old age as they once pursued a common heroic goal.