‘Fay’s not actually wearing the dress – it’s on a hanger that was placed round her neck like a collar’
This is Fay, my second Weimaraner. She’s the first dog I ever put in a dress. It was 1988 and I’d been wrapping her in fabric to make her look like a column. My assistant Andrea was behind her and, as she flapped her arms, it looked like Fay was talking to me and gesticulating. It was sinister and eerie and not at all cute. But the combination of Fay’s expression and Andrea’s gestures was hilarious. At that moment, I thought it might be OK to dress Fay in human clothes. And that’s what led to this shot.
Before that, I had always found the idea of anthropomorphising a dog problematic. I did shoot Fay and her predecessor, Man Ray, looking like other animals, though. Sometimes they seemed almost human, but I did not want them to be like circus characters.
At the time, I was thinking about mythology and those Egyptian gods that were part-bird and part-human, so that filtered through. Fay is not really wearing the dress, though: it’s on a hanger that was placed round her neck like a collar as she sat on a high table. It’s the hanger that makes her look as if she has human shoulders. Fay was obsessed with balls so I threw one in: it cracks the scene – and the sickening anthropomorphic notion of dressing up a dog. Fay didn’t go for the ball, though. She just followed it with her eyes: Weimaraners are pointers and know innately how to be still.
I was using a large-format Polaroid camera, which had a lot to do with how my dog shots evolved. The images it creates are huge – 20×24 inches – and the camera is about the size of a fridge. It’s very cumbersome: you have to wheel it around and raise the subject up to be level with its lens, as it won’t tilt down. Because the shots it takes are vertical in shape, I had to figure out how to fill all the space, since dogsare fairly horizontal when they stand. That’s why I put Fay on a table and added the dress. Working with that size of Polaroid is expensive so you rehearse each shot. It was about $50 an exposure back then. Now it would be around $300.
I started out as a conceptual artist in the 1960s and would often usemyself and Man Ray in video pieces. There’s always been humour in my work and a sense of spontaneity. We worked hard but we had a lot of fun. The dress was made from horrible chintzy polyester. I hope it wasn’t something I’d grabbed from my mother’s wardrobe.