Up in the air
I went up into the air for the first time, photographically speaking, in 2006. At the time, I was interested in parachuting, and photographed a series of parachutists. From there, it seemed like a small step to go back down to earth and add pictures of my then dog, Lucca, to the series of parachutists. This experience inspired me to begin working with dogs, leading my first project featuring them, “Ups & Downs,” a small, simple studio series with only basic technical equipment.
I began experimenting with my methods. In order to achieve a satisfying depth of focus, the photographer needs to have the object, in this case, the dog, at an exact distance. So I had to find a way to have the dogs jump at the exact same spot After trial and error, I found that the best approach involved a range of 20cm (7.8 inches) from the camera. I had to prevent the frisbee, which I used as bait, from covering their faces. And I had to ask myself if these “flying dogs” —with their wide open snouts and the crazy looks— looked a bit too weird.
Outside, I could set the scene effectively for dogs chasing after frisbees, using a flash and a simple background, but I found it impossible to plan appropriate illumination for the wide variety of breeds I invited for the project. And I didn't think I would be able to find a pug or a bulldog or a greyhound in Berlin with the necessary joy of hunting frisbees.
A few years later
i had a chance to work with the flying dogs again, when a commission came up for a veterinary product advertising campaign . This time, I had much better technical equipment and a more sophisticated set.
I needed to find an effective solution to make the dogs fly. I had a number of criteria. First, my method had to be safe for a healthy dog, one that required minimal—if any—strain on the dog, and work on the first try, in order to capture the surprise effect. Second, I needed to tailor the approach for different breeds and constitutions. Finally, it had to be doable for all dogs without previous training, requiring a low height while still seeming dynamic. I finally came up with the method that I would use throughout the shootings: rather than having the dogs jump after a ball or a frisbee, I would have their owners or an assistant hold them at a certain height, depending on the dogs’ size, and release them onto a well-padded mattress, allowing me to closely monitor the area where I would shoot.
The funny expressions on the dogs' faces come from surprise. In the studio, the dogs were confronted with a lot of strange odors, a wind machine and flash lights. The first attempt usually created best looks; on subsequent tries, most dogs learned to look towards the ground. After three jumps, the dogs knew the routine and no longer appeared surprised.
The huge success in the media around the world finally led to the book project. But there were also false allegations about how the dogs were treated on set. Some people didn’t understand that a wind machine and post-production created the real illusion of flying.
As usual, only my own dogs Flinn and Turre know the greatest pleasure of this project: a wonderful weekend, spent in the company of many lovely dogs and their owners, with a lot of encouraging words and treats, balls or frisbees and some exquisitely beautiful female dogs.