Vintage photographs of dogs may not be everybody's cup of tea – even if they are early daguerreotypes. But for dog-lovers, Photography Going to the Dogs at London's Kennel Club Art Gallery is an essential experience.
Most of the 50 photographs, dating from the 1850s to the 1950s, come from one of the world's leading vintage dog-photography collectors, Libby Hall. Highlights include Paper Moon, a little girl and dog perched on a suspended crescent moon; Crufts 1957, a line of women showing off their dogs on a long wooden table; and a host of royal dogs, including Queen Victoria's collie, Sharp.
Hall started collecting in the late 1960s quite by chance, when she came across old photographs being thrown away during house clearances. "I began rescuing photographs and noticed the ones with dogs were moving and poignant," she says.
Four dog-photography books later, all published by Bloomsbury, and a network of international dealers passing vintage dog photos her way, Hall suddenly stopped collecting in 2008.
"What I'd wanted to illustrate was the importance of the relationship between man and dog. I'd achieved my aim so I decided to give it up."
Over the years she has collected more than 5,000 daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, carte-de-visites, stereo cards, postcards, snapshots and studio enlargements of dogs. She often paid between £20 to £50 for images – although an early canine daguerreotype can fetch as much as £1,000.
"For me the image is all important, I don't care about the condition of the photo," she says. Among her favourites is one of a little girl holding the ear of an old dog. But the gem of her collection is a glass negative of Queen Victoria's servant and friend John Brown, with four of her dogs.
"Some of the photographs are amusing – how often the cliché really is true that dogs look like their owners. But the motivation behind these vintage dog photos is almost exclusively about love."
The Kennel Club Art Gallery opened in 2003 and houses the biggest collection of dog paintings in Europe by famous artists including Maud Earl, George Earl, Richard Ansdell, Arthur Wardle and Cecil Aldin. A new show, A Terrier's Tale: The Manchester Terrier Through History, will open at the venue next year.
Photography Going to the Dogs, Kennel Club Art Gallery, London W1 (020-7518 1064) to 13 January
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