Keith Arnatt: Walking the Dog

After reading the brief for a ‘Square Mile’ I gave my initial response to how I wanted to approach the assignment.

I have spent some time observing the work from the recommended photographers in the ‘Research’ section of the assignment, and out of these incredible composers of art, three really caught my eye. These being, Keith Arnatt, Gawain Barnard and Karen Knorr. Below I have chosen to analyse the project by Keith Arnatt, Walking the Dog.

Keith Arnatt

Walking the Dog, Pictures from a Rubbish Tip and Gardeners were the immediate artworks that I found stylistically most in reference to a ‘Square Mile’. Having dogs myself, the Walking the Dog project stood out to me most. This is also something I come across on an almost daily basis when walking my dogs, the relationship we have to other dog walkers and their pets within our ‘Square Mile’.  

Firstly, from a visual perspective the initial impact I gauged from the ‘Walking the Dog’ photos was the immediate connection to a man and his dog. Your instant foveal focus is on the human in the image, a huge sense of realism, and how you could quite easily expect that very person to be walking past your house right now with their trusty pooch. A stereotype entered my mind almost instantly as to ‘what dog they must have’. I think its become an accepted assumption in todays culture to associate different breeds of dog with certain types of people. What I loved most was how a lot of the dogs pictured with their human counter-parts were what I expected. A harmonious match in most cases. This to me makes the subject of the image a showcase of how close the bond is between a man and his dog, and how they represent each other, you can see elements of the dogs characteristics and appearance in the owner and vise versa. You can even see facial expressions, stances, presentational traits that link the two perfectly, the way some seem to smile, some frown. I feel like the photographer gave no requirement for facial expression or stance, it’s simply natural, like that of the dog, act as you would normally when being photographed.

Below are some of my favourite images from the collection:

All of these images consist of the same formal characteristics, each image contains the owner and the dog, in full length and centred. The animal is always at the owners feet, and there are no other people or animals in the shot. The continuity of the images therefor is extremely noticeable, which I find even more interesting as the negative space is always different. The negative space for me in each instance is another indicator into the personality of its objects, for example the image containing the elderly gentleman and his poodle on its hind legs, are seen outside a clothes shop, both objects are very well presented, suggesting a care for appearance. In the other case of the elderly gentleman with his overweight Dalmatian you can see a difference in there surroundings. Rubbish on the floor, very plain and simple walls, highlighting the objects similarities to its surroundings.

Technically, each image again screams continuity. The use of Black and White, a constant camera angle that showcases both objects in full. Almost as if it’s purpose it to pass judgment on them, as we look them up and down to analyse each and every part. Keith has cropped each photo and made it square, again draws your attention to his human and dog centrepieces but gives enough content of the surroundings to affect your judgment on the person and their life. Leaving the surroundings in focus also helps us to embrace the negative space, and similarly let it represent the person and animal.

I think this concept works perfectly within the brief of the ‘Square Mile’, the images contain people that are seen on a daily basis, in the confines of many peoples ‘square mile’ surroundings. The use of Black and White, the continuity in the natural tonal values, patterns of light and shadows is a key element that I would like to consider interpreting into my work for the ‘Square Mile’. Cropping the image again adds the element of close-ness, making it square, another connection to the brief that I will carry forward into my project.

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