“Every winter, throughout rural Spain,” Martin Usborne writes in his artist statement for his new book, “up to 100,000 Spanish hunting dogs are abandoned or killed at the end of the hare-coursing season.” Dogs that are too slow, too old, or too expensive are left on the side of the road, in empty lots, or out in the harsh landscape to be replaced by younger and faster dogs. For the past two years, Usborne has been photographing the dogs that are lucky enough to be rescued, as well as the landscapes from which they came. “Where Hunting Dogs Rest,” a book published by Kehrer Verlag, is a poignant record of Usborne’s dedication to the animals and their plight.
Most of the dogs are Galgos, a form of Greyhound, prized for its speed and hare-chasing abilities. Podencos, also common, are a smaller breed used in hillier areas. “Both the Galgo and the Podenco have had a remarkable fall from grace that is hard to comprehend,” states Usborne. “In the 12th century such a dog might have been owned by an aristocrat or appeared in a classical painting or been passed down in a nobleman’s will.”
Using a medium format film camera, natural light, and background materials and props that he found on location or brought along, Usborne’s photographs “aim to capture something of the dogs’ beauty and heritage without denying the ugliness of their modern situation.” The colors, and the style and mood, are inspired by the 17th century painter Diego Velazquez, who painted the most important figures, moments, and landscapes of the Spanish Golden Age.
The modernity of the animals’ tragic circumstances is acutely illustrated in their tense and anxious faces and body language. Usborne needed the dogs to be calm enough so they didn’t run away when he photographed, but “other than that,” he says, he “didn’t want them to appear particularly comfortable.” Usborne, who has a great affinity for animals of all kinds, believes this series reveals that humans are more powerful than other animals, “often painfully so,” he adds. When asked what this moving series reveals about dogs, Usborne responded, “that they trust us too much.”