Imagine waking up to find yourself locked in a car. The back window is wound down a fraction. The front seats are empty. The radio silent. Only a scruffy old chew toy can assuage the feeling of utter abandonment. You lay your head mournfully on the musty upholstery, getting up only to stare hopefully out of the window.
This bleak prospect, experienced mainly by dogs, sometimes by wakeful children, is the sentiment artist Martin Usborne chose to express for a series of photographs. Having found himself in such a position himself he feels an overwhelming pathos toward dogs in cars everywhere.
“I was once left in a car at a young age,” he says. “I don’t know when or where or for how long. Possibly it was at the age of four. Perhaps it was outside Tesco’s. Probably for fifteen minutes only. The details don’t matter. The point is that I wondered if anyone would come back: in a child’s mind it is possible to be alone forever.”
Usborne makes it clear, however, that he was a well-looked after, not at all abandoned child. However, this short experience led to his feeling “a deep affinity with animals” and sensitivity toward their suffering at human hands.
The silence of dogs in cars goes on show at the Little Black Gallery this spring. Usborne admits the series is dark: capturing dejectedness, anger and sadness. What Usborne might not have anticipated is the somewhat comical aspect presenting such blatant emotion on canine faces might inspire. Dog lovers will be moved to tears, but a crueler onlooker may well be amused.
Usborne didn’t frequent supermarket car parks in order to photograph dogs left in cars. He set everything up in a studio with careful planning. He says he even chose cars which “matched the dog”, for maximum impact.
“The camera is the perfect tool for capturing a sense of silence and longing,” Usborne says. “The silence freezes the shutter forever and two layers of glass are placed between the viewer and the viewed: the glass of the lens, the glass of the picture frame and, in this instance, the glass of the car window further isolates the animal. The dog is truly trapped.”
Usborne’s book The Silence of Dogs in Cars was awarded ‘Best in Show’ in the Creative Review Photography Annual 2012. He was also the recipient of the 2009 Taylor Wessing Award in the National Portrait Gallery for his photograph “Tiger, Rag, Johnny and Emma”.
He lives in East London with his fiancé and their two dogs.
The Silence of Dogs in Cars from 19 March to 27 April at The Little Black Gallery, www.thelittleblackgallery.com