“Sit! Stay! Stay Man Ray!” (Not Man Ray, the artist, but Man Ray, William Wegman’s first Weimaraner dog.) “William Wegman: Being Human” is a survey exhibition of thirty years of photographic work at the NGV International. Wegman’s photographs combine two things that he enjoys: art history and Weimaraner dogs. Wegman’s Weimaraner dogs are his willing, loyal and obedient muse.
Does the dog’s expression change when it is wearing a wig or standing on a box? Or, am I just projecting my perception of emotions onto the dog? What are his dogs thinking when he photographs them? As Wittgenstein wrote: “If a lion could speak, we could not understand him.” Meaning that the life of another animal is structured so differently to our own that even a shared language would not be common ground for communication. Wegman believes that his second dog Fay Ray had pride in her work, her balance and poise; maybe she did, maybe she just want to please him. One thing that I am sure about that they are not thinking about is art history or how it can be funny. And Wegman’s photographs are funny and his dogs are the ultimate deadpan-looking ‘straight man’ in this routine.
If we have learnt anything from the social media it is that pet photographs dominate, so it is not surprising that Wegman’s photographs are popular. Wegman has been photographing his dog since 1970, long before social media. Large format Polaroids create a unique photographic print, the complete opposite of digital photography.
I’m not into dogs, I am more of a cat guy and I not into putting clothes on animals. I’m not sure if this simply an aesthetic choice, or a matter of taste, but that it might reflect deeper ethical and existential considerations. So there is too much Cindy Sherman and not enough Sol LeWitt in this exhibition for my taste, however, I still enjoyed looking at Wegman’s light-hearted take on art history and his dogs.