Interview: Robert Bahou
Q: Tell us about yourself – Where are you originally from?
I was born and raised in Amman, Jordan, to a Dutch mother and a Jordanian father. I attended a boarding school in Jordan named King’s Academy, and followed that up at Amsterdam University College for my BA. I am a photographer currently specialising in animals. Q: How did you start out as a photographer? I’ve been making photos all my life. I bought my first camera in 2009, and registered as a professional photographer in 2012 (when I was still studying)
Q: How long have you been a dog photographer or animal photographer?
I have photographed dogs (and animals) for about two years now.
Q: What was it that made you want to photograph dogs in particular?
Dogs have been regarded as man and woman’s best friend for a long time, however most of the photographs made have them focus on what they are, rather than who they are. We are generally more concerned about their appearance/breed/ and about them doing something specific. There is nothing wrong with this, but I wanted to try something new. I’ve had dogs around me my whole life and I wanted to pursue a project that does their personalities justice, in a sober yet endearing way.
Q: Is photographing dogs different than photographing other animals?
Absolutely. Each animal presents an entirely different challenge. Cats do not listen; horses require a studio quadruple the size, dogs (often) pant. If a dog is well behaved it makes photographing them straightforward. Getting them to sit in place is normally the first challenge; all I need to do from that point is catch their attention for a brief moment. I generally prefer if a dog has its’ mouth closed, and is not panting. The reason for this is that panting is often automatically associated with dog-like behaviour, and if I remove this element the viewer can more easily forget they are looking at a dog. They then begin to anthropomorphise the subject and attach what we associate as human characteristics to the dog. Stopping the panting is a problem with larger dogs, but I have various tricks to get this to happen.
Q: Do you specialise in photographing any particular breeds?
I don’t specialise in specific breeds. Ideally I’d get all the breeds in my collection. A Lhasa Apso is expressive in an entirely different way than a Great Dane, yet at the same time, they are remarkably similar. It is this contrast and similarity that I aim to show with my collection.
Q: Do you have any special techniques for achieving your special portraits of dogs?
My technique is a sum of the various practices I’ve adopted. I always spend some time to get to know the dog, to have them warm up to me. My lights are always set up how I need them so that I am not interrupted while shooting (I practiced various lighting setups on a large plush Saint Bernard I’ve had since I was a child, so that I would be ready when I had a live animal in front of me). I think it goes without saying that the first point is to make sure the dogs are being photographed at eye level or below. This is an angle we are not accustomed to, and it is the same angle we use to make portraits of human beings. From the onset my guiding methodology was clear: to eliminate any distraction and leave just the dog centre stage.
Q: What is your favourite dog photo that you have taken so far and why?
I have a few photographs that I am able to get completely lost in. Sam the meditating Samoyed (Featured as the cover of my upcoming book), Ocho the Lapphund and Tigra the Ridgeback. I have spent countless hours just staring at these photographs, and the more I do so the more fascinated I become. After studying these photos for a long time, the word dog no longer plays a role in my experience of the photograph. What is left is a portrait that leaves me wondering what is on their mind, who they are.
Q: Would you have any tips to offer new dog photographers just starting out today?
In order of priority: Patience, a guiding methodology and good technical faculties. Patience is the absolute number one priority for anybody looking to photograph animals. It will almost always take large amounts of time to get the photo you’re looking for, but I can promise that it is practically inevitable that it is in the cards. A guiding methodology, a goal, a specific concept can help tremendously to getting your work seen. If that is what you are after of course. Tim Flach: a high art calculated approach that raises discussion about dogs. Seth Casteel: Charming photos of dogs underwater. Sophie Garmand: Endearing photos of wet dogs. Elias Weiss Friedman (The Dogist): A ‘Humans of New York’ style collection of dogs. Carli Davidson: Frozen moments of dogs shaking. Robert Bahou: Close and personal portraits of dogs. Technical faculties should also go without saying. If you know the types of photos you want to make, practice, practice, practice. As a mentor of mine always said, ‘Quality is the exclusion of coincidence’. If you want to make good photos you need to be able to do it again and again, instead of relying on one-off circumstances. I had photographed a few hundred dogs before I had my technique exactly how I wanted it, it takes time but it is once again, inevitable that you will get to where you want to me if you commit.
Q: What’s the best thing about working as a professional dog photographer?
I get to meet so many different dogs, I learn so much about the various breeds, I hear inspiring stories of shelter dogs who had little chance of survival, ending up living beautiful loving lives. However I think the best part of it all for me is that, when I meet a dog I immediately see the photo I want to capture, and I almost always am able to capture it. That part is incredibly fulfilling.
Q: Where is your favourite place to photograph animals (what country, city or place?) and why?
I would have to say The Netherlands. It is a small country and finding dog owners is remarkably simple. It is never more than a two hour drive either.
Q: Are you working on any new dog photography project(s) that you would like to talk about?
I am currently publishing a book of my dog and cat portraits entitled, Animal Soul. It is a large hardcover art book of my best work from the last few years. I am taking pre-orders through Kickstarter for the project. If all goes well, I will hopefully follow it up with a book entitled Canine Soul, which is a working title. This would be a similar concept but specifically about dogs.
To learn more about Robert’s new book kickstarter.com/projects/1498570909/animal-soul