All images shot by Rachel McKenna. Used with permission
Rachael McKenna has been a photographer for over a decade and has always had a fascination with people, animals and travel. She is also currently sponsored by Hasselblad. But her latest project will have you smitten. The New York Dog Project is still a work in progress, as she is spending up to 6 months in the city this year to develop a collection of images that will showcase New York Dogs and their owners in her own personal style.
We had the chance to speak with Rachael about the project after meeting her recently in NYC.
Phoblographer: What attracted you to dogs and what then made you want to photograph them?
Rachael: I have always been a dog lover, ever since I could walk, my parents were having to drag me away from cuddling other people’s dogs; I finally convinced my parents to get a dog for the family when I was 9 years old and I have had dogs of my own ever since! My passion for photography also developed early on in life, at the age of eight I received a hand-me-down camera from my grandparents and fell in love with photography. The family pets were my first subjects, then my friends; during my art school years it was still animals that often found their way to pose before my lens. My first book 101 Salivations: For the Love of a Dog‘was published in 2003 and since then I have created numerous books that the subject matter has revolved around animals, dogs and cats in particular. My latest books The French Cat and The French Dog are my first books where I have ventured out of a studio environment; my current book project The New York Dog will contain images mainly created on location around this international city, but will also include some character studio style created imagery.
Phoblographer: What made you want to create a book on New York dogs?
Rachel: I have always loved New York and it has been a dream of mine to create a project based around the life of this fantastic city. New York is also a city full of Dog Lovers, walk the streets and you can almost guarantee you will see one or two dogs on every corner! It also seemed the perfect follow on from the tranquil images I created for the pages of The French Dog to challenge myself to capture images with a more upbeat and urban feel.
Phoblographer: How do you feel our dogs differ from those in other parts of the nation or world? Further, do you plan on capturing that photographically?
Rachael: It is early days for me here in NY, so everyday I am learning more about the dogs here and the way they live. From my experience, I can’t say the dogs of NY differ that much from the dogs of other big cities I have worked in; for example, Paris, London, Sydney, Melbourne and Auckland all have a large range of different breeds, including pure breeds and cross breeds–the main difference I would state would be that there are a LOT more rescue dogs here in NY which is a really great thing and also the dogs here in NY are more often apartment dogs; whereas dogs from big cities in Australia and New Zealand often have gardens, often quite large gardens, and also plenty of space to run off leash in parks and at beaches. London and Paris have many dogs that are apartment dogs but possibly a higher percentage of dogs with access to a backyard also. I grew up in Auckland New Zealand and I can honestly say that my dogs there had wonderful lives; though there are the same rules about having your dog on a leash in the city and keeping them away from playgrounds, plus bans from certain beaches during the summer, there were SO many other large parks that you could take your dog to give them a lengthy off leash run or swim at any time of the day that the areas that weren’t allowed were never an issue. New Zealand really is a fantastic place to own a dog–as is rural France where we live now.
Phoblographer: New York has loads of dog friendly cafes, bars, banks, and restaurants. What do you think makes the city so dog friendly?
Rachael: I actually think it is the people, New Yorkers seem to accept dogs in a very open and friendly manner. The dogs here also seem to accept and love life in a big city; there are so many people around and dogs seem to be very people orientated. Dogs are also wonderful companions and a fantastic source for stress release, which would be a great thing in such a busy working environment; nothing puts a smile on your face better than a dog!!!
Phoblographer: Some of the traditional tips for capturing photos of dogs have been to get down to their level, shoot wide, and perhaps put a treat on your camera lens to grab their attention. How do you envision yourself going about capturing these canine companions?
Rachael: After years of experience working with dogs and other animals I have learned to treat all my subjects as individuals, of course with dogs, most are food orientated but sometimes this isn’t necessarily the best thing for a photograph. I am often after a specific expression or character and sometimes introducing food often excites or provokes the wrong look. I judge each dog as needed, I am more likely to use noises that I create myself which encourages the dog to look through the lens to me, I use different tones and ranges to encourage just the right amount of expression, and every dog is different. The dogs here in NY are a lot more use to loud noises than other dogs I have worked with, so I am going to have to work twice as hard to get their attention and to get them to focus on the job at hand! In regards to angles, yes I agree it is great to get down to the dogs level, but I do try and capture images that vary in composition so viewers have a variety of different angles and image looks as they browse through the pages of my books.
Phoblographer: Do you see a lot of service dogs probably being part of the project? By that I don’t only mean seeing eye dogs and therapeutic pups, but also K9 units.
Rachael: Definitely, I am actually still on the hunt for some great K9 rescue dog units so if you know of any please send them my way!
Phoblographer: You’re giving yourself six months for this project, where do you plan on doing most of your shooting/scouting?
Rachael: Unfortunately, it is going to be closer to 4 and half months shooting time for the project as my deadline has been brought forward, I wish it was 6 months as New York is a huge area to cover. I plan to capture images in all five boroughs of NYC as well as possibly some images created in Long Island and the Hamptons; it is really a book about the dogs of New York City so the majority of the imagery will be created within Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Staten Island.
Phoblographer: Tell us about your first dog.
Rachael: Henry, my huge chocolate colored teddy bear Newfoundland–where do I start; Henry was my muse, my constant companion, and my greatest source of inspiration, he was an amazing dog! I ‘borrowed’ Henry from a breeder in Auckland New Zealand for a photo shoot, I fell in love instantly and he never went back! I created numerous images of Henry in the early years of my photographic career, and in every image he gave me a different look, he showed me a different piece of his soul each time I triggered the camera. In front of the camera he was a star; off duty he was a terror, but a lovable rogue–his worst trait was that he hated skateboards and would charge at full speed, barking madly, with the intent to knock the poor child off. Thankfully I could run faster than my big bear and would grab him prior to any incident ever taking effect. I tested him one day and borrowed a skateboard from a young boy, took flight down a path, told my friend to let go of Henry’s lead and sure enough within seconds I was flat on my bum in a nearby bush; proof that it was definitely the skateboard he was after not the person as I know he would never intentionally knock someone over! But when not testing my patience and strength with skateboard chasing, Henry was a dream; it was the saddest day of my life when at only 7 and a half years of age he fractured his hip, due to his size and his hip dysplasia the vet was unable to help him so I had to say goodbye; not a day passes when I don’t think of my precious boy and the wonderful memories he gave me.
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