William Wegman has immortalized his beloved Weimaraners through his photography. In the process, he has also raised the Polaroid to a medium of fine art — his wry, inimitable images have been displayed at museums and galleries, including the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York and Imago Galleries in Palm Desert.
During his Imago exhibition last year, Wegman agreed to photograph local collectors’ doggies — commissions tougher than they sound: The Polaroid camera Wegman uses is in New York. And it’s the size of a refrigerator.
“The camera Wegman uses is one of only five made by Polaroid in the 1970s,” says Imago Galleries’ co-owner Leisa Austin. Engineered to take actual-size portraits in vertical orientation, the camera’s size (Wegman describes it as a cross between a refrigerator and a cello) made shipping from New York prohibitive. But he located one of the other four cameras in San Francisco. “We arranged to have it shipped here to the desert so Bill could do commissions during his exhibition.”
Seven canine-crazy gallery clients — along with Leisa and her husband/gallery co-owner David Austin — jumped at the opportunity. Here’s what some of them
say about the experience:
AMBER AND BARON
Owner: Madeleine Redstone
“I did this as a surprise for my husband’s birthday. I thought it would take one hour, but it took four. My husband kept calling, wondering where I was, but I couldn’t call back. The experience was fabulous … [Wegman] got them to do things … he just charmed these dogs. Baron preened for him. I think he [Baron] found his calling; he wants to be on the cover of GQ now. And we gave the dogs enough treats during the photo session that they didn’t eat for two days afterward!
“Dobermans get a bad rap,” Redstone says, referring to the perceived ferociousness of the breed. “They’re trained to protect their owners, but they’re really the sweetest animals, the most timid. And Wegman captured just how they are.
“The Wegman Polaroid is in our media room, next to a Hockney, which is next to a Rosenquist … we have a fabulous art collection, but Amber and Baron are the stars of it.”
Owners: Leisa and David Austin
“It was both a trying and an amazing experience,” says Leisa Austin, referring to the photo shoot with her and David’s pug, Larrye Christmas. “Larrye is 13 and has health issues — and only one eye — but she’s a trooper with an amazing personality. Bill captured a lot of David’s and my feelings toward our dog. She’s the same age as the gallery, and we’ve had her since we opened. There were some tough times in the early days, and we came home to Larrye at the end of the day and she made us laugh. We feel a genuine affection for her. She’s part of our family.
“Bill said Larrye’s portrait was one of the best he’d done of a non-Weimaraner. We also did a serious family portrait, and then asked Bill if he’d be interested in being in a shot with us. And he did.
“To have a Wegman portrait of our own dog is just huge. We have a pretty amazing art collection, but treasure these. We knew of [Wegman’s] work before we represented him, but never in my wildest dreams did I think we’d have one of our own. We’re building a new home and planning the media room around his work.”
Owner: Mary Lester
“Cooper is an Australian Ridgeback,” says Mary Lester. “His mom was named Dixie Chick, his dad was Elvis, his sister was Reba McIntyre, and he was originally named Vic Damone. We changed it to Cooper, after Alice or Gary. So stardom is definitely in his family. And once Cooper saw the lights and cameras, he knew he’d found his 15 minutes of fame. He just posed and posed.
“So many of us who live with dogs, and the dogs become little people to us. William Wegman brings that human element out in the dog. He captures their personality, who they are in the second that the shutter clicks. Cooper is a little stud muffin, and Wegman brought that out in him.
“Wegman is just awesome, sensational. We didn’t really know what to expect, but the entire experience was just so much fun.”
Owners: Dayle and Kenneth Roath
“When we moved into The Reserve, David and Leisa [Austin] brought artwork that included two Wegmans,” Dayle Roath says. “Leisa noticed our dogs [yellow Labs Miss Molly and Macho Man] and asked if we’d be interested in having a portrait of them done when Wegman came to town. Of course we said yes!
“You can tell Bill is a dog-lover. He was down on the ground, talking to the dogs. He was so patient — it was such a great, fun experience, and he really captured their sweetness. In every photo, Macho Man has the same look — he’s very inquisitive, eager, always seeming to be asking, ‘What are we gonna do, where we gonna go, what are you gonna feed me?’ And Molly is an independent soul; you think she’s not paying attention but she knows you’re there. And he captured that.
“We feel so honored that he would do this for us. It’s so special. He took nine shots of our dogs, and we bought six. And they’ll be in our family forever.”