“My sister and I were ostensibly raised by poodles on the banks of the Potomac River in Virginia,” wrote the photographer tongue-in-cheek in the preface to her series Animals. Her sense of humor harks back to her happy, enthralling childhood spent in the company of four dogs and a bird: Tulu, Folly, Snuff, Bisuit, and Felix. “Dogs were the center of our family, the focus that made our lives together pleasurable.”
It was only natural that in her work the photographer turned to her four-legged and feathered friends as the subject of choice. “Animals have always been important in my life, so when I started photographing people in the late 1970s, I often included their companion animals,” recalled Sage Sohier. In the early 1990s she began to focus “on finding and photographing people with lots of animals.”
Play and mischief
Pit bull terrier, dalmatian, poodle, greyhound, cat, rabbit, pig…: countless species cross paths and interact in Sohier’s images in as many surprising ways. Surprising might be the word that best describes these unusual domestic scenes: dogs cradled like babies, a llama reclining in a living room, a monkey outfitted in a pinafore and being spoon-fed, an iguana treading on the back cushions of a sofa. Every photograph features a cartoon-like situation, making us laugh and warming even the most embittered hearts.
“I’m very interested in how different species of animals interact with each other,” explained the photographer. “There is more spontaneity, less self-consciousness, and more chaos when humans and other animals coexist.” This is where the American photographer shines: her talent lies in her readiness to snatch the fleeting moment, capturing a dog in mid-leap, a trio of chihuahuas scratching in unison, a pack of rats exchanging meaningful looks, or a bulldog looking stumped.
“One hybrid being”
What is most astonishing about these images is the way animals tend to play humans and humans take on the role of their animal companions. This unconscious act says a lot about the intimacy between the different species and how they adapt to one another. A Weimaraner duo seated in dining chairs seem as distraught as their mistress who is talking on the phone across the table: this is a truly surreal scene, worthy of a Dali painting. In other pictures, the situation is turned around: the humans revert to a more primal state and can be seen rolling in the grass with their cute little dogs and just as wet. They must have all splashed around in the pool, like old play pals, as if they were no different from each other.
“I’m interested in the way that humans and animals seem to morph together into one hybrid being,” noted Sohier. “People become simpler in some ways and more like the animals they’re with, and animals seem to become more human.”
Sohier’s images are indeed full of simplicity, teaching us a lesson about life and humility: “[The animals] take us out of ourselves, keep us from taking ourselves too seriously, and keep us emotionally saner than we would be without them.” The photographer concludes: “During these anxious days of being homebound during the Coronavirus outbreak, it’s great to have dogs to interact with and snuggle.”
By Coline Olsina
Animals, Sage Sohier
Joseph Bellows Gallery, 7661 Girard Avenue, La Jolla, CA 92037
A series published by STANLEY/BARKER