Dog shows are not frequented by many of us, but photographer and lecturer Martin Andersen has been attending them religiously for over a decade. His ongoing series, Dog Shows, takes us behind the scenes to provide endearing glimpses of an exceptionally competitive world. “Two of my friends invited me to Crufts back in 2004. It was my first experience at a dog show and I was immediately inspired. It felt completely surreal, full of characters and funny looking dogs,” Martin remembers. This bizarre and dazzling environment is perfectly reflected in his images, featuring pampered dogs in curlers and hair clips.
The photographs of dogs and their owners taken moments before they compete are hypnotic. “I was overwhelmed by the many strange dog breeds, the obsessive competitors, the outfits, the ‘make overs’ and the many different merchants,” Martin tells It’s Nice That. The images are not taken during the fervour of competition where judges are evaluating the dogs. Instead, Martin’s interest lies in the extensive backstage rituals of beautification involved in constructing the ‘perfect’ pooch. One picture shows a Chinese Crested wearing a leopard print jacket, while a Maltese is having their individual strands of fur styled in another.
By travelling extensively across continents, Martin has established a huge archive of work. “There is a big difference in the shows. The American shows are more ‘colourful’ than the European ones as more money is spent. The atmosphere also tends to be more tense at the bigger shows: lots of tears, drama and celebrations,” he explains. Behind closed curtains, Martin captures images of owners kissing their dogs, combing them, dressing them and anxiously examining these furry superstars. It is the relationships “between the dogs and their owners” that inspire Martin rather than the choreographed action of the competition ring.
“I am inspired by the funny instances and candid moments, by the unpredictable, real and playful,” he says. Love and tenderness permeate the photographs that depict moments of meticulous attention to detail and care as proud owners ensure their little friends are both handsome and happy. It is perhaps these various examples of emotional attachment that resonate with dog fans who may not normally be drawn to photographic art: “I recently started showing some of the pictures on my Instagram account and it has been interesting to see that not only photography enthusiasts are enjoying them but many dog lovers have shown a keen interest.”
Fourteen years on, the project has grown into a fascinating narrative of humour, devotion and competition framed by playful curiosity. “I never set out to achieve anything specific," says Martin. "I enjoyed having a project without any client interference or commercial restrictions and I was also learning about a new style of photography.” Martin’s work is powerful because it is spontaneous, non-judgemental and sensitive and he is hoping to compile some of the best shots into a book one day.