The Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show gets the Sam Youkilis treatment in his very first video commission

Everyone's favourite travel photographer sheds a light on his very first video commission, and it's for The New York Times.

For some time now, Sam Youkilis has cemented his place in many a heart worldwide for his breathtaking photography. Instagram is often his medium of choice where he documents his enviable travels from the skies of central Turkey to the white sands of New Mexico, and pretty much everywhere else in between. It’s hard to choose just one of the myriad places Sam has shot with his clear and matter-of-fact lens. We could have very easily picked up on his project for Zev Rovine Selections, a seemingly idyllic time for Sam spent at a beautiful vineyard in France. Or his time in Malaysia, capturing the local kopitiams (coffee shops) with whirring fans ahead and deliciously fragrant foods served on giant banana leaves.

There were so many different avenues we could have taken, but instead, we chose one that we knew would please our audiences far and wide. It is, of course, the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. Founded in 1877, the competition for the world’s most prime pups often takes place in Madison Square Garden. Sam ventured there for a commission for The New York Times, and the task at hand was a particularly exciting one for the in-demand photographer, as it was the first assignment someone asked him to make videos instead of stills. It’s a deliberate shift Sam has been working towards for some time now, telling It’s Nice That, “I’m making more videos now than ever before, and taking those videos a lot more seriously.”

He didn’t know much about the dog show before attending, explaining, “I hadn’t seen past coverage and I’m not so into dogs.” But with a little help from Netflix’s 7 Days Out episode focusing on the party of pooches, he quickly became familiarised with the annual establishment. “The atmosphere was weird and amazing,” Sam continues, “a lot of my work, especially the video stuff, relies on making people feel comfortable with my presence.” No mean feat, this can be a highly difficult task on Sam’s international encounters. It requires a certain amount of trust between the photographer and subject, something that can either be established through speaking the same language, having mutual friends or interests, or in some cases, simply spending enough time together. With the dog show however, “both the people and the dogs were eager to present themselves and be photographed,” says Sam.

The competition took place in an impressive location, on a massive pier along the Hudson River. The venue was split into two sections, with one side hosting preliminary competitions while the other was dedicated to staging the dogs before or after the competitions. Sam spent most of his time in the latter area, wandering through the multiple sections divided by breed. “Each section had rows and rows of dogs lying down across ironing boards or tables,” he recalls.

Observing the dogs in this behind-the-scenes capacity, Sam found this staging area to be the most interesting to document. “Dogs sat quietly while their handlers washed, blow-dried, straightened or curled their hair,” he remembers. Their nails were clipped and their tails massaged, anything to prep or relax the pampered dogs before they went on stage. Sam found this in-between part to be “the best place to observe and record the dynamic relationship between the trainer and dog.”

It’s the step prior to perfection, where creases are ironed out and the tiniest of details are tended to, that Sam intimately documents in his videos. The care and attention to detail is palpable, exemplified in Sam’s delicate handling of the camera, and the focus of his shots. And though he didn’t know much about it beforehand, nor really even knew this world existed, Sam’s time at the Westminster Dog Show transpired to be “very fun”, going on to tell us, “I would love to photograph there again some day.” As for the present however, Sam’s current work has quite a different story. As of last week, he was in Morocco, working out his next move since work in Italy was called off. But whatever’s next for him, we can’t wait to see it.

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About the Author

Jyni Ong

Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor. Feel free to drop Jyni a note if you have an exciting story for the site.

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