This week's The Pets focuses on renowned fashion photographer and filmmaker, Bruce Weber and his treasured Golden Retrievers. Weber is acknowledged as an accomplished celebrator of the human form, from his iconic Calvin Klein campaigns from the 90s to his monochrome editorials often shot on location. But delve a little deeper and one will spot a distinctly canine trend in much of his work, such as his books Bear Pond and Gentle Giants: A Book of Newfoundlands. He once explained, "I started using my dogs on some fashion photographs I was doing, because I really needed to hide the clothes. They looked really bad! Then I began photographing my dogs, taking personal pictures of them." The image-maker has also indulged his pet passion in many of his films, an early example being his 1995 fifteen minute short, also called Gentle Giants, where he combines images of Newfoundland dogs with youthful ponderings on his interests and idols of the 1950s.
Despite this early flirtation with gargantuan Newfoundlands, Weber's loyalties now lie with a slightly more manageable choice of companion: the Golden Retriever. Originating in the Scottish Highlands in the late 1800s, the breed was developed by Lord Tweedmouth by crossing the original yellow Flat-Coated Retriever with the now extinct Tweed Water Spaniel. Loveable, long-haired and loyal, Golden Retrievers are popular choices of household pet, despite their early history as hunting retrievers. Still, their intelligence and versatility has resulted in their frequent use as guide dogs, hearing dogs and rescue dogs. They have an in-built adoration of water, enabled by their layered coating: a dense, warm inner coat and a glossy, waterproof outer coat which lies flat against their body. Golden Retrievers range in tone from rich creams to shiny golds and have broad skulls, long tapered muzzles and lengthy (usually wagging) tails.
Today, Weber is the proud owner of five Golden Retrievers. First is Dream, whom he describes as being reminiscent of a football quarterback and "a little like Tom Brady". Then Tao, his newest recruit, who is "really laid back and open just like his name". Next, a rescue dog called Billie Holiday who’s "really a sweetheart". And River, an English Golden named after River Phoenix, whom Weber photographed and very much liked. "I wanted to name one of my dogs after River. He reminds me a little bit of River because he always needs a hug." The star of his pack is True, who had a whole film dedicated to him: Weber’s 2003 documentary A Letter to True. In this a scrapbook of autobiographical images are interwoven with Weber’s voice-over dictating a love letter written to True. The film pays homage to the true love and innocence of pets in the midst of a cruel world and features long and seemingly un-satirical excerpts from The Courage of Lassie (1947), starring Elizabeth Taylor. Since then, Weber has pioneered a pop-up store/gallery/doggy playground in Tokyo, The Original True Store. He has also co-designed special coats for Retrievers with French design house Moncler and shot the accompanying campaign.
Text by Daisy Woodward
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