“Dogs represent so much more to us than we could ever be aware of,” says photographer Bettina von Zwehl. “A psychoanalyst friend once told me that dogs rescue us as much as we rescue them.” This interest in our relationship with man’s best friend began when the Royal College of Art-trained, east London-based portraitist took her first canine snap last year. But like her dramatic, historically inspired photographs of human subjects, there is a crucial difference between her pooch pics and most portraiture – they measure just 8.1cm in diameter mounted in a 16cm x 16cm frame.
“I began doing portrait miniatures of people during my residency at the V&A in 2011,” she says. “From the 16th century until the advent of photography in the mid-19th century, miniature portraits were often presented as tokens of loyalty, friendship or love. Queen Victoria commissioned a fair amount of dog portrait miniatures during her reign, so when a lady asked if I would consider doing a photographic portrait of her poodle, I felt it made sense to branch out.”
It’s a niche that’s proving popular with dog devotees. While most of the portraits are shot in von Zwehl’s studio, the photographer was recently flown to New York to photograph a philanthropist’s two miniature schnauzers and her friends’ Coton de Tuléar (which came to the studio with its own groomer). Later this year she will travel to Miami to photograph some lucky pugs.
Photoshoots take between one and two hours. “I’m interested in making eye contact with the dog and showing the whole animal in its purest form, without distractions,” she says. The final shot is strikingly mounted and framed in black, and costs £3,000. For potential clients, von Zwehl’s miniature pups can be seen pre-commission at Photo London in May and at Masterpiece in London in June.
For a selection of cool canine accoutrements, click here.