These Soulful Dog Portraits Were Inspired by a Cat

Belgian photographer tries to "bring a whole story in one look."


Vincent Lagrange

Belgian photographer Vincent Lagrange dedicates his book on dogs to a one-eyed cat named Dwiezel.

Dwiezel hung out in the studio belonging to Lagrange’s dad, who was also a photographer. The boy started photographing his feline muse when he was just 7 years old, recording her life as she aged. She inspired him to want to take portraits of animals.

For his new book, “The Dogs: Human Animals” (teNeues Publishers), Lagrange spent more than a decade photographing 200 dogs. He met many of his subjects on the street with their owners and then brought them into the studio for an extended, patient session.

Lagrange talked to Treehugger about the tricks he uses to help dogs relax in front of the camera, how he finds the perfect subjects, and how a cat started it all.

Treehugger: It’s interesting that your photographic muse was actually a cat. What’s the story about Dwiezel?

Vincent Lagrange: With Dwiezel I grew up with my father and was our studio cat, when she got older, her health deteriorated so I started documenting her more and this is where my love for animal photography originated, the day she was no longer there it meant a lot to me, and I did not want to photograph people. An animal has an honesty and sincerity that I appreciate enormously.


Vincent Lagrange

What prompted you to set out to photograph so many dogs?

I wanted to create a collection that clearly portrays the human aspect of the dogs where I go deeper into their soul and try to bring a whole story in one look. It was a big challenge since no model is the same, no one of the animals in the book is a real model so for each shot I adapt a piece to get what I want.


Vincent Lagrange

You’ve photographed more than 200 dogs since starting this project. Were certain dogs more challenging than others? Were some easier? More fun?

Sure, I have also done some charity projects with shelters to be able to place some animals faster e.g. an Akita that has been behind bars for 8 years and can come out of the corner unexpectedly, but it has never failed me, I always take my time which is a very important element in this form of photography. 

Some animals that I photograph come in in a way that makes you think that this is going to be a difficult day, but then again these are sometimes easier animals, the difficult part for me lies in the setup and manual focus. The technicality of my image has to be right, so that you are sucked in by the animal and confronted.


Vincent Lagrange

What are your tricks to getting a dog to pay attention to you and your camera? How do you capture a dog’s personality?

Time is very important, also you should always respect the animals, and not continue to do something if he does not want something. For example, I always shoot with constant daylight in the atelier to get the animals at ease without having a flash in their eyes every time.

It is also important that everything is calm because in many areas, you only have one chance.


Vincent Lagrange

Where do you find your canine subjects? Do you ever stop dogs on the streets because you find they are so interesting looking?

I scout these from the streets and people ask me too of course, but my personal preference goes to the atypical, for example I met Jack in an old brown pub where he was always under the chair, after his admission Jack has become the king of the pub and go there often. I enjoy small things like this! 


Vincent Lagrange

Were you ever so frustrated that you decided to give up on dogs and turn to other subjects? What made you change your mind?

Noah, one of my favorite photos by the way, had to come a few times. This dog was rescued in Spain but had a huge fear in him and crawled under the decors every time. I don't push the animals, but rather try to put the focus on our bond. In the end it worked out. The result was magical for me! It couldn't be more human!

If you weren’t photographing dogs, what would you be doing?

Living between the animals in a shelter and enjoying the little things in life. Because everything has to go way too fast these days. I enjoy rest immensely!