In the 1830s, as Louis Daguerre was fine-tuning a method that would become the first widely available photography, he made portraits of family, friends, and one four-footed subject: his dog Médor, who Daguerre’s colleague Isidore Niépce spoiled with gifts of gingerbread. In the photograph, blurry and rudimentary, the dog’s legs are splayed out, he holds a stick in his mouth, and his jowls drawn back into a grin. He has not heeded direction to adopt the grim, unsmiling expression typical of a 19th-century portrait. It is, in my opinion, the best daguerreotype of them all.
That dogs have always been beloved subjects of photography is the expansive and uncontroversial claim of The Dog in Photography, 1839-Today by Raymond Merritt, published by Taschen. The book compiles over 400 images of dogs: from a 1890 nattily dressed hound in tophat and filigreed pipe; a family portrait of the Kennedy family on a sun-kissed patio, hanging out with a pack of six pups; and William Wegman’s liver-brown Weimaraners, their wet eyes expressing a deep, vaguely hilarious pathos.
As you take in the very good dog imagery of the contemporary era, it’s good to remember that dogs have always been this great at sitting for a camera and looking lovable as heck.