Brooklyn N.Y.-based animal photographer Winnie Au teamed up with her sisters, Cindy and Alice, to create something truly unique. Each bringing their own skills to the table, the three sisters spent months putting together an adorable book called Canine Chronicles. The book features fictional stories about the lives of ten “famous” dogs throughout the 20th century.
The first spark of a book idea came after Winnie had been shooting dog portraits for some time. She had fallen in love with shooting canines, and had become quite good at it, so she thought it would be fun to take on a more in-depth personal dog project. Winnie explains,
Since I usually take classic portraits of dogs in home environments, I wanted to use this as a base. People often comment that my portraits of dogs have a distinctly human quality to them. I thought it would be fun to take this idea one step further and put human clothing on them.
Together, Winnie, Cindy and Alice brainstormed and came up with the idea of a book that highlighted great moments throughout 20th century history. Winnie would take the portraits, Cindy would write the stories, and Alice would create the design and layout of the book.
They began with deciding which historical figures to feature in the book.
We wanted to capture a range of people throughout history who had done something impactful, whether it was contributing a scientific invention or an iconic video game. Each dog would be the canine companion of someone famous from the 20th century. For example, Arthur is the canine companion of Albert Einstein, and he represents the decade from 1910-1919.
As for funding, the sisters looked to Kickstarter, a pledge website that allows individuals to collect contributions for creative projects. The Canine Chronicles Kickstarter was so successful, that they actually exceeded their goal by several hundred dollars.
Once they had the funds to get started, the casting process began. This included first making a list of the ideal breed to portray each canine companion. Then, the sisters put out a casting call asking for dogs who knew how to sit on command and who didn’t mind wearing clothing. After posting the inquiry around the internet, they ended up with a great selection of dogs to choose from.
Then came the hard part. Not only was there the challenge of photographing animals—which is always tricky in itself—but Winnie and her sisters had to find time period appropriate outfits that fit the dogs. According to Winnie, this was one of the hardest parts of creating the book.
When it comes to dog clothing, there’s not a huge selection on the market, especially when you want clothes that looks like they’re from 1910. That’s why we ended up buying mostly human clothing and tailoring it to each dog. But since dogs obviously have very different bodies than humans, it doesn’t always look right. For example, we tried putting a tie on our pug model (who plays Sydney, the canine companion of Charlie Chaplin), but the tie (even the smallest tie I could find) was just gigantic compared to his head size, and it looked ridiculous (as if a pug wearing a suit isn’t ridiculous enough). So in the end, a bow-tie was the best choice for his suit. I also learned random things about dogs, like the fact that greyhounds generally don’t sit. Instead, they lay down in what is known as the sphinx pose. Usually, I like to photograph dogs while they’re sitting, because it looks the most flattering for their shape. When we photographed Sadie the greyhound (the canine companion of Coco Chanel), we had to adjust our idea of how we would photograph her and find a new angle that would be just as beautiful.
Now, after months of photographing, writing and designing, the book is about to be released. It’s already getting some attention too, with ABC News and several other outlets doing stories on it. Winnie and her sisters are happy to see their collaborative work come together—especially on such a fun project. Plus, they now have many stories to share, including one about a bulldog named Rufus.
Rufus was adorable and definitely had the personality of a bulldog. He did what he wanted to do, and that did not really involve having his picture taken. He didn’t want to wear any clothes, and he didn’t really want to stay on set. We still got some adorable photographs of him, but at some point during the shoot, he was done. He just walked off set, pushed open a very heavy sliding door in our studio, and marched out into the lobby. He sort of had the personality of a celebrity.