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Caught Our Eyes: No Getting Past the Dog Days

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The Caught Our Eyes sharing wall, where Prints & Photographs Division staff share "finds" in the collection. Look for some of these in future posts! Photo by P&P staff, 2018 Feb. 28.
The Caught Our Eyes sharing wall. Photo by P&P staff, 2018 Feb. 28.

No, this is not a post bemoaning the sultry heat of late summer (sometimes referred to, apparently for astronomical reasons, as the “dog days”). The Prints & Photographs Division’s dog days are prompted by the realization that various staff members highlighted portraits of dogs (some with accompanying humans) on the division’s “Caught Our Eyes” wall, where we share with our colleagues pictures that made us look twice.

Here are the canine “finds,” presented in order by when the photographs were made:

I recently added to the sharing wall this portrait, which I ran across while looking for something else in the Civil War photographs online.

[City Point], Virginia. General Rufus Ingall's coach dog. Photo, 1865 March.
[City Point], Virginia. General Rufus Ingall’s coach dog. Photo, 1865 March.
It reminded me just how much this body of photographs, which was intended to document the war, often provides a view of other aspects of life in the 1860s. I wondered why the photographer took the time to photograph General Rufus Ingall’s coach dog. He had to go to some trouble to set up this shot, recording it on a stereo glass negative that could ultimately yield a 3-D view. Was he trying to curry favor with General Ingalls? Or did he just like dogs himself? And what is a coach dog? (A quick look at Wikipedia and other sources suggest that they were also referred to as “carriage dogs,” were trained to run beside carriages to protect the passengers from bandits, and were often Dalmatians.)

Digital Library Specialist Anne Mitchell was delighted to discover this canine among the thousands of turn-of-the-twentieth century portraits in the C. M. Bell Studio Collection.

Dick, Mrs. I.V. Photo by C. M. Bell, between February 1894 and February 1901.
Dick, Mrs. I.V. Photo by C. M. Bell, between February 1894 and February 1901.

Drawing on her knowledge of the original captions that accompanied the photographs (and her love of dogs), she noted: “The sparse captions sometimes mention the presence of a dog. As a dog owner, I totally get why people would want to pose with their dog. During the Victorian era, however, dogs were not only beloved family members but were also fashionable accessories. I love how this dog is looking straight at the camera; the owner, with a mysterious Mona Lisa-like expression seems satisfied posing there with her pooch.”

Reference librarian Jon Eaker likewise responded to the poses struck by the dog and human in this slightly later portrait by Harris & Ewing, Inc. which operated in Washington, D.C., between 1905 and 1945: “I just liked how they were posed. An elegantly dressed woman, turned, with her hand on her hip, looking directly at the camera. Meanwhile her dog is draped across her lap (even though it’s much too large to be a lap dog), legs outstretched, and its head turned just enough to get a perfect profile.”

[Con]nolly, Francis, Mrs. Photo by Harris & Ewing, ca. 1917.
[Con]nolly, Francis, Mrs. Photo by Harris & Ewing, ca. 1917.
Whatever the season or era, these photographs suggest how dogs have played a variety of roles in humans’ daily lives and self-presentation.

Note: We also have plenty of cat lovers on our staff. Stay tuned for a post about delightful discoveries in the realm of feline visual documentation!

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  1. Like most, impossible to navigate. Hopefully you stumble across something of interest. Best of luck.

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