Zane!, Why Not and Edgar

A few days after I got my puppy, Zane!, he stepped off of the curb and into the street. A non-event, really. There was no traffic, no immediate danger. He was on a leash. A quiet neighborhood on a sunny summer afternoon. In that moment, though, I grasped the potential for heartbreak, for the sadness of loss, that my decision to love something had brought with it.

I was just a few years into my new, pet-centric specialty when a man from my neighborhood brought me a beautiful, dignified German shepherd to photograph. His dog’s name was Why Not. Though it wasn’t evident, Why Not had a terminal illness, and was increasingly in pain. The man told me that the two of them were going directly from my studio to their veterinarian to end the dog’s pain through euthanasia.

I recall the confusion of feelings I had as I processed that client’s pictures. The dog looked great, they looked happy together. The portraits made me happy, but they were wrapped in poignancy as well. This experience deepened the importance of my work to me, deepened my respect for my clients’ need to have portraits that artfully stop time.

I kept a small print of Why Not on my desk for many, many years.

Just yesterday I met with two different clients, each of whom expressed regrets. One wished he had had portraits done of his previous dog while that dog was living, and the other said she wished she’d brought her seventeen-year-old Westie, Edgar, to me when he was young and full of life. Edgar’s portraits worked out beautifully all the same.

I feel lucky. After twenty-three years of making portraits of people with their pets, I look back over my photo archive with a similar sense of poignancy. Many of the beautiful spirits I’ve memorialized in portraits, animal and human alike, have gone from this world, like my Zane!.

-David Sutton

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