The Strangest Breeds of Dogkind

Questioning beauty and examining genetic manipulation through portraits of hairless dogs

They’re two of the most ridiculed and most mysterious dogs on Earth. Xoloitzcuintli, thought to have evolved from ancient canines in Mexico, has survived the rigors of evolution to steal the hearts of discerning pet lovers. Chinese Crested were specifically bred from African lineage to suit the unique tastes of high society.

These hairless dogs were too powerful a lure for Sophie Gamand to ignore. The French expatriate has dedicated her photographic career to examining human nature as evidenced by our relationship with our oldest four-legged companions. Her Prophecy series tries to appreciate the charisma of the inner-dog while commenting on humans’ compulsion to manipulate everything which surrounds us.

“I always say that dogs are the first and most-striking example of men acting like gods towards nature,” says Gamand. “It is something I want to continue exploring. Isn’t it strange that we humans try to capture what nature does so beautifully, and then we try to artificially reproduce the same thing? Nature created hairless dogs. Then we took it over and decided we would create new breeds like the Chinese Crested.”

At first, the dog owners in the project were suspicious and Gamand needed to convince them she wasn’t looking to exploit the dogs for laughs. Just like with her project on pageant dogs in New York she slowly eased into a community of hairless dog lovers, reaching out to friends of friends.

The reputation earned from her award-winning Wet Dog series, and the marketing potential for professional breeders and rescue operations helped her credibility.

Part of the impulse for the work was that Gamand had never met a Xolo or a Chinese Crested. She didn’t know how to approach the dogs or how to represent them, and needed an easy way to get comfortable with her would be subject matter.

“I found someone who lived in my neighborhood and who was open to being a ‘Guinea pig’ so I could try concepts out,” she says. “It was Zuko. I wanted to explore his body like a landscape and stay away from portraits. But I snapped that portrait of him with eyes closed, and I had to pursue that angle.”

The deeper into work she got the more clear her vision became. The dogs, with their sparse white hair, rheumy eyes, wrinkles and moles made her think of wild-eyed philosophers making terrible premonitions. Given how much genetic manipulation has gone into developing the modern Chinese Crested she started creating an atmosphere befitting doomsday prophecies.

“I placed my camera very up-close, in their face,” Gamand says. “They hated it. It made them feel uncomfortable. Then I used bribery, sounds, to get them to look at me. I wanted this experience, the physical experience of being so up-close to my subject, as if they had grabbed my shoulders and were screaming with their eyes, some important message I could not understand. The photoshoots were almost like an artistic performance. They were very intense for me and that’s how I wanted it.”

Unruly extroverts are Gamand’s favorite subjects, but these little hairless dogs proved tough to shoot. She found the Chinese Crested to be sullen and skittish, possibly a result of their generations of domestication. The wild Xolos, on the other hand, proved to be independent and temperamental with no patience for fussing humans. One of her models left a session after she tried to cajole him with a baby voice.

Attitude problems aside she developed an affection for the Xolos, traveling as far as New Mexico to try and photograph them in their historical stomping grounds.

“Their bodies are strong and alert,” she says. “Some of them were so powerfully built that as soon as they would hear the tiniest noise, they would jump around the studio like gazelles. Amazing creatures.”

A preference for Xolos over Chinese Crested dogs isn’t a reflection of Gamand’s opinions on genetic engineering. She’s opposed to irresponsible backyard breeding and can’t stand people who refuse to spay or neuter their pets but respects the professionals.

“I am a documentarian,” Gamand says. “It is not my role to judge, but rather to explore and question. I think it is fascinating that we have developed so many breeds and interesting that we try and maintain them. Ethical breeding is fascinating.”

Gamand is an animal advocate at heart, volunteering her services for shelters to bolster adoption efforts. Her series Flower Power attempts to show pit bulls in a softer light and she continues selling calendars and prints to raise awareness about America’s abysmal record of euthanizing the misunderstood breed.

She hopes that Prophecy will educate potential hairless dog owners about their needs, such as needing sunscreen and special hygiene products.

The intuitive Xolos have left a lasting impression and will soon be the subject of their very own photo project. In whatever downtime is left over Gamand is arranging exhibitions and gearing up for the October publication of her first book, Wet Dog. She wants to get back on the road soon to spread a message of doggie love, but is also quietly contemplating a shocking game-changer.

“I want to continue developing my art projects while helping shelters and developing awareness campaigns. I am also starting to think about photographing other animals. Shhhh don’t tell the doggies.”

All images by Sophie Gamand. Follow her on Instagram.

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