There’s something about the way they’re both standing—strong and sure, but tired. And the way they stare into the camera—plainly and openly, with nothing to hide and little to explain, the kind of look that’s not easily earned.
Doug and his border collie, Spartacus, are two of the subjects of London-based photographer Josh Bryant’s striking portrait series, Companions. The image was taken just over a year after Doug’s wife died, leaving him and Spartacus to tend the farm. Even without the caption, you can tell they’ve been through a lot together.
“The images themselves are extremely vulnerable, letting a stranger into the privacy of your own home and having them take a photo of you,” says Bryant. “However, it was the confidence of people with their dog at their side that was interesting—people offer you a glimpse into their lives that they would not normally allow.”
Bryant has been interested in the strong bond between humans and canines since growing up in England, where his grandmother was a corgi breeder and dog show judge and his aunt is a trainer. “Dogs have been a main focal point throughout my family,” he says. “I wanted to discover whether people share the same interest and love for dogs I do, while also examining how their relationship with their animals works.”
“It was the confidence of people with their dog at their side that was interesting—people offer you a glimpse into their lives that they would not normally allow.”
After placing advertisements looking for participants in store windows, Bryant quickly had a line-up of willing subjects. Some, such as Geraldine, are obvious “dog people.” Sitting on a bed piled with stuffed poodles and surrounded by illustrations of the breed, she cradles Armani, her well-coifed pooch. Others are slightly more reluctant companions. Derry, photographed outside in a bathrobe and Crocs, explains of Gracie: “’It’s supposed to be a family dog, but I’m the only one that takes it for a bloody walk.”
Whether of a chubby lab or a show-worthy terrier, the images share a certain rawness—the product, perhaps, of Bryant’s hands-off approach behind the camera. “I try to make my work as objective as possible, so in this case I let the owner choose their own pose within their own environment,” he says of the portraits, which are at once stark and elegant. “I found the different postures and body language of both owner and dog interesting—it provided a real insight into the personalities and identity of the person and dog and their relationship.”
Although the 15-photo series is certainly limited in its sample size, it does seem to prove the theory that, after awhile, dogs tend to resemble their owners. Georgie and her equally curly-haired pup Giley snuggle up on a bench, smiling sweetly, arms and paws draped casually over each other. If Leo is throwing a little side-eye at the camera, he clearly learned it from his human, Jane. Bryant was initially interested in the idea, and he came away from the project convinced that the resemblances run more than skin-deep.
“Since dogs were first domesticated tens of thousands of years ago, the anthropological records show an affinity developing between them and their owners,” he says. “I came to the conclusion that individuals are subconsciously drawn towards different types of dogs depending on their lifestyle and character. It’s similar to a romantic relationship—we, as humans, tend to subconsciously match ourselves with pets that we feel we share something in common with.”
With that in mind, maybe Brad and Bruno aren’t such an odd couple after all. Sure, a Chihuahua might not be the obvious companion for a heavily tattooed 20-something. But when you take a second look, you realize they’re both holding on pretty tight.
All images courtesy of Josh Bryant