In shooting for her two previous books on Palm Springs, photographer Nancy Baron had company. Not unwanted company, just the four-legged canine type that wanted to be part of whatever she was doing.
“The dogs in the houses would start following me around and end up in the frame ,and it always added so much to the photo,” says Baron, a Chicago native who has a second home in Palm Springs. “So eventually I decided that this is just what people need. They need to see these homes and these dogs that are so beloved and well cared for.”
With Palm Springs Modern Dog at Home, she does just that. Now available on her website and Amazon, the book illustrates how dogs are an integral part of each home’s midcentury roots. Even with minimalist features, the warmth and humanist aspects of modern design emerge thanks to the presence of the dogs in each photograph.
“My photographs capture the midcentury modern lifestyle,” Baron says, “so I captured that, but with the addition of these adorable dogs. In all my photos I try to make sure that they have warmth and life — and something that brings a smile.”
Baron chatted with Palm Springs Life about creating the book and her own fascination with dogs.
When did the dogs become the focus of your work?
I’ve been making this Palm Springs work for 10 years. I began to really focus on the dogs four or five years ago. It was sort of a casual thing and then once it became a definite that the book was being published it was more focused.
How did you know what kind of shot you were going to come away with?
I knew the houses, so I already had an idea in mind of how I would get the shot. Everyone was really friendly and it came together. When I shoot, I try to keep a low profile––no equipment––just me and my camera. Especially with the animals, you want to keep it as simple as possible. I have to say that all the dogs were great.
What are some secrets to shooting photographs of dogs?
When you’re working with animals, you have to work very quickly. Many of the photos are candid. We would be talking and all of a sudden I’d see out of the corner of my eye, ‘Oh, that’s the right light and I love the way the dog is standing or sitting’. Some of them were posed but it wasn’t necessary––and, regardless, it worked every time. If dogs are well-loved and cared-for, they’re usually calm.
I take it you own a dog?
Yes. I have an English Shepherd. Coincidentally, she came into our lives (as a puppy) at the same time we became part time Palm Springs residents. It was great timing because she loves the Palm Springs house. It’s a one-story house, so no stairs, and the house opens up to a great backyard.
Did you have dogs as a child?
I didn’t. When I was around 2 years old, my parents got (believe it or not, I remember it), this adorable Cocker Spaniel and I proceeded to get very sick. It turned out I had, I actually still have, an allergy to dogs
And yet you still decided to get a dog?
Yes. I always wanted a dog, and when a friend passed on an email with photos of an adorable litter of English Shepherds that had just been born, I couldn’t resist.
I’d heard that it’s a wonderful breed and decided I was going to be that person that had a dog. So we got her and yes, I was sick a lot, but I think that, overall, what she adds to my life overcomes all the issues I’ve with my allergies.
So it’s worth the sacrifice?
I’d have to say a definite yes. As it turns out English shepherds — I’m sure everyone says this about the breed of their dog — are a wonderful, smart, kind, gentle breed. She’s great with small children, and elderly people, and other dogs. So, yeah, It’s been well worth it. She’s a beloved member of our family.
Did you always have an interest in photography?
I worked in various aspects of film production. After taking years off to raise my family, I decided that I’d like to photograph small projects quietly, rather than being part of a large crew. I thought I’d like to make documentary still photography projects, as I always loved documentary films.
About 20 years ago, I started studying photography at different schools around Los Angeles and I really took to it… the craft, the technology, and the art. So, that was it. I produced a few personal projects before the Palm Springs work, but the Palm Springs work was what really resonated for me.
What do you like about Palm Springs?
The first time I came to Palm Springs, it was in the mid-70’s. Still living in Chicago, I was staying in LA with friends and we decided to drive out to Palm Springs. It had been a rough winter in Chicago, and lying by the pool in the warm sun and seeing the snow-dusted mountains… it just seemed like paradise.
I always say — and I’m sure, especially that we are both from the Midwest, you would agree with this — is that there are just endless things to discover in Palm Springs. Once you live here rather than visit as a tourist, you see a whole new side of this amazing desert town. Enjoying the resorts or visiting as a modernism tourist is wonderful but, living here, you really see the richness of the life here.