Featured   |   Featured Community   |   News   |   Undergraduate

Behind the lens with the acclaimed ‘dog guy’

William Wegman

William Wegman, a pioneering artist known for his photography, discussed his career on Wednesday evening in a lecture sponsored by the Department of Art + Design. Photo by Brooks Canaday.

By 

Five pieces of cotto salami lie in a white dish against a black speckled back­ground. A hairy out­stretched hand sporting a ring on its index finger reaches for a slice of the sausage.

The image, con­structed and then cap­tured by pio­neering artist William Wegman in 1970, trans­formed his appre­ci­a­tion for still pho­tog­raphy and shaped his ongoing love of pho­tographing dogs on boats, in dresses and even cov­ered in flour.

“I wanted to build some­thing that you couldn’t create through the lens,” he told roughly 300 stu­dents, fac­ulty and staff who filled Blackman Audi­to­rium on Wednesday evening for a lec­ture on his illus­trious career. The event was spon­sored by the Depart­ment of Art + Design in theCol­lege of Arts, Media and Design.

Wegman, 68, moves flu­idly among var­ious media. Over the last four decades, he has com­mis­sioned mag­a­zine shots; cre­ated tele­vi­sion seg­ments for Sesame Street and Sat­urday Night Live; and designed children’s books revealing tongue-​​in-​​cheek por­traits of town and country life.

But he will be remem­bered pri­marily for pho­tographing Weimaraners, the most famous of which he named “Man Ray” in honor of the artist and photographer.

Man Ray, Wegman explained while flip­ping through a slideshow of his work, was a “dreamy dog, one who did romantic things and took romantic pictures.”

His obses­sion with pho­tographing Weimaraners — curled up in boxes, say, or dressed like Little Red Riding Hood — grew out of an innate interest in trying some­thing that has never been done before.

“They became a black­board that you could write any­thing on,” explained Wegman, who has become known as the “dog guy.” “They had quirks that you could explore.”

Art pro­fessor Mira Cantor alluded to Wegman’s genius in a series of intro­duc­tory remarks, noting that pre­em­i­nent artists take risks and “dis­cover new truths that may not be self-​​evident.”

Wegman, she added, “con­tinues to chal­lenge and test him­self and has cre­ated some of the most impor­tant works in the his­tory of con­tem­po­rary culture.”

Nathan Felde, the newly appointed chair of the Depart­ment of Art + Design, com­pared Wegman’s art­work to post­modern lit­er­a­ture by nov­el­ists Kurt Von­negut and Italo Calvino.

Like Calvino and Von­negut, Wegman, Felde said, “embodies what it means for art to be at the center of life.”

Wegman’s series of com­po­si­tions involving Weimaraners, he added, “gives us a chance to recon­sider our­selves while looking into the infi­nite good­ness of the eyes of the dog.”