Latin American Fotografia: Sophie Gamand

By David Schonauer   Wednesday March 23, 2016

“I photograph dogs to better understand humans.”

So says Sophie Gamand, a French photographer and animal advocate based in New York City. Gamand is perhaps best known for two projects: The first, called “Wet Dog,” featured dogs captured at the groomer while being bathed. “I chose this activity because it is a very unnatural one for the dogs, yet it is a direct consequence of their cohabitation with humans. Domesticated dogs need to be washed for hygiene, health and social reasons,” Gamand notes at her website. The work won the 2014 Sony World Photo contest’s Portrait category.

A more recent series, called “Flower Power, Pit Bulls of the Revolution,” portrayed pit bulls from animal shelters wearing crowns of flowers. The project, notes Gamand, is meant to cast a feared breed in a softer light. “America euthanizes upward of 1,000,000 pit bull-type dogs every year. It's a quiet massacre,” she writes.

Another series of images, called “Xolotl, The Soul Companion,” was named a winner of the Latin American Fotografia 4  competition. The work was created in 2015 as an homage to the Xoloitzcuintli, or Mexican Hairless dog, one of the rarest and oldest breeds in the world. The national dog of Mexico, it is named after the Aztec god Xolotl.

“In Aztec mythology, the dog god Xolotl is the Sunset god,” notes Gamand. “He accompanies and guards the Sun into the land of Death every night. The world was said to have been destroyed four times before our present age. After the last destruction wiped out all life, Xolotl and his twin, the Fifth Sun Quetzalcoatl, ventured into the underworld to retrieve the bones of humanity. From these bones, they restored mankind. The earthly dog was created from these same bones, and presented to mankind as a gift from the gods.” Gamand’s series is a evocation of the myth.

Gamand has also created a series of close-up portraits of hairless dogs including the Chinese crested, but says that photographing the Xoloitzcuintli was a unique experience. "It was almost like working with wild or feral dogs. They have been domesticated for a while so they understand our codes, but they have a wild side,” she told Slate.

Like all her work, the images of the Xoloitzcuintl are meant to make humans look at our canine companions from a new perspective.

“Each year, American animal lovers spend about $60 billion on food, veterinary care, kennels and other pet services,” notes Gamand. “Yet each year in this same country, 3.9 million of dogs end up in animal shelters. That's about one dog for 82 inhabitants. This dichotomy raises questions about us, humans, and our social interactions, as well as our relationship to nature and our environment. Are dogs the victims of our fast culture? Have they become disposable?”


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Dispatches from Latin America