Many of us are easily amazed by wildlife photography. Growing up in crowded cities, we see exotic animals in the zoos but it’s really rare to actually have a chance to see animals in the wild, running free without a care in the world. However, for some people, it’s a regular day’s work.
Legendary National Geographic photographer Vincent J. Musi started his career 38 years ago with a series of internships but being a talented photographer, he was offered a chance to work as a contributor for the National Geographic magazine. And that’s how his already 26-year journey began. Known for his spectacular wildlife photographs, he has traveled the world to capture the mesmerizing beauty of lions, tigers, and bears. Let’s admit that it’s something most of us don’t usually do!
Ellie Mae, 2017
Everything changed when his son turned sixteen and Musi decided to take a year off traveling the world to spend it with his teenage son. Compared to the life he had, it was something different so he cultivated his roots at home and opened a hometown studio to photograph dogs.
“Those of you who think a sweet dog like Nessie would never escape would be wrong. Callie and I pride ourselves on elaborate precautionary measures yet protocol may not have been followed the day Nessie showed up, posed for one photograph and made a break for the doors reminiscent of Triple Crown winner Justify barreling down the home stretch at Belmont Park. This was not expected as you might expect.
It could be the whole cavalier part of being a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. More likely is the connection to her namesake, the fabled Loch Ness Monster, who also posed for one photograph and was never seen again. Fortunately, our Loch Nessie was found, returned and photographed without injury or arrest.”
“Ed is a very well designed dog. If he were a concept vehicle, he might be a Jeep. Not one of those fancy Jeeps with the heated leather seats and an info-tainment system but more like the kind the U.S. Postal Service use in the swift completion of their appointed rounds.
Ed’s twelve years old and just about that many inches high, so he’s not the tallest or the fastest or even the strongest dog you’ll ever meet but he can leap tall steps in a single bound. I agree, the mechanics of this don’t really make sense but I assure you, the dog can defy gravity when the need arises. I observed this from up close and more than once in his new home just up the road from my own. Ed followed an entourage of tall people around on a tour, up and down, scaling steps with the best of them, never getting far enough behind to be considered late. I would also note for the record that he excelled in his hardwood floor skills.
Mrs. Nawrocki, my well-designed and sturdily built high-school English teacher would not be pleased with my casual disregard of all things she taught me in the way of sentence structure, grammar and punctuation. If she were still alive, I know she would be as thrilled to read your kind comments about my dispatches as I am.”
The result is The Year of the Dogs; over 100 one-of-a-kind dogs from Musi’s year in the studio matched with witty dogographies gleaned from his time spent with each subject. From a Labrador that likes the opera to a kleptomaniac miniature golden doodle, and a lovable one-eyed Jack Russell to a farting bulldog, Musi captures the unique character and personality of these everyday dogs with 190 evocative images and a gently comical mash-up of his own personal life experiences.
“Scout is a happy, well-adjusted 13 year-old Boykin Spaniel who might not be able to see or hear as well as she once might have. Food is often on her mind and her sense of smell hasn’t betrayed her ability to raid a trashcan in the dark of night.
I often have a lot to say about other people’s dogs. This is in itself should be worrisome but not unexpected given my family history. My mother had a lot to say about other people’s dogs. Usually that they looked hungry. She was mostly Greek, had married into a large Italian family and food was always on her mind. My mother tried to feed every living thing that came within a square-mile of our house whether it was hungry or not.
She would feed the squirrels, rabbits, lost children, and stray birds. The men who took our trash never left without sandwiches. Escaped convicts, on the run, could count on a meal at our home before the cops came. They look hungry babe, she would say.
Beginning in the 1970’s, my brother lived next door and spent many a hard earned dollar on the healthiest dog food he could find for his prized Irish Setter puppy. When the dog began to gain weight, he spent more on fancy food and restricted her diet, extracting pledges from my mom not to feed her while he was at work. The more he restricted her diet, exercised her and pleaded with my mother, the more weight she gained and the more money he spent on fancy food and so on. Despite promises, our mother simply could not be trusted.
She looked hungry, she would say as she tossed the penned-up girl table scraps, peanut butter sandwiches and leftover pasta. My brother would come home and storm off between the two houses, broke, with his overweight dog, reluctantly dragging behind.
A gal like Scout would have gotten along well with my mother, I can hear her now, she looks hungry.”
“Harry is a 2 year-old Standard Poodle who is more Hairy than Standard but all Poodle. I’m not going to lie, I was very nervous about photographing Harry. Dogs can smell fear in a photographer but Harry never let on. I wanted to call him “sir.” Respectfully, I thanked Harry for his patience as I fumbled around with the lights. It took me forever to figure out what I wanted to do and his time is valuable.Callie made small talk with him, apologizing for my incompetence. In the studio, we usually ask the owner to leave when we photograph their dog. She really has no idea that any of this went on with us, unless of course she’s reading this post or Harry said something afterwards.
There is an awe usually reserved for royalty that I express for a dog that can maintain a flawless Blue Steel, scratch himself and remain really, really, really, ridiculously good looking at the same time. It’s off-putting at first but once you get to know these famous dogs, you realize they are regular dogs, just like the rest of us. Don’t judge them only by their stunning good looks and impeccable manners. If they wore pants, they would still put them on one leg at a time.
To those inquiring about his status, I can only say that Harry is currently in a relationship with a young Bernedoodle named Versace.”
The work of Vincent J. Musi is familiar to many around the world through the pages of the National Geographic magazine. Specializing in animal portraiture, Musi considers his subjects collaborators, rather than simply the topics of his photographs. As well as National Geographic, Vince and his work have been profiled in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Time magazine, including numerous cover features. He lives in South Carolina with his wife and son.
“Many people envision our work in the studio as a high-energy, creative experience with me shouting “beautiful baby, beautiful” and the dogs responding with pose after pose like models before the lens of the famous fashion photographer and international spy, Austin Powers. The reality is, I’m somewhat unable to speak when in the process of making photographs. It’s a genetic flaw or some right brain/left brain quirk realized for the first time when I was rejected from my childhood garage band for not being able to sing and play drums at the same time. Damn you Phil Collins.
When we work, this leaves me with a limited menu of grunting noises and the occasional guttural outburst, which I still find helpful in getting an animals attention. It also passes for a kind of barbaric shorthand between Callie and I, until she tires of it and gets mad at me, which she finds helpful in getting my attention.
Zorro is a 12 year-old Standard Poodle, too damn smart to get in the middle of our bickering. He tried to stay neutral but always sided with Callie. This is often the case with the nice lady holding food and I am still learning to live with rejection. This is more frustrating because Zorro is a very special dog that lights up a room when he enters and I want a dog like that to like me.
More caregiver than therapy dog, Zorro has always been there for the people who needed him most, some at the end of their lives and some who would miss those people the most. Our connection was fleeting and dramatic, a longer version of the moment is stored in my memory like a slow motion fight scene from the Matrix.
This photograph came together when I was finally able to vocalize a sound that engaged Zorro. I was trying to say his name but it came out with a poor rationing of consonants to vowels; Shtwa -thwo-or-oht-za-moAlshs. This stopped Zorro, deeply engaged with Callie and a snack of some kind, He turned to me, tilted his head and then he gave me -The Eyes; the eyes that had comforted, the eyes that had gotten him out of trouble, the eyes that had earned him more than his fair share of mac and cheese. And then, Zorro burped. Beautiful baby, beautiful.”
“Does this dog look like Benedict Cumberbatch to you or is it just me? I photographed something like 12 dogs last week. I’m exhausted. I see dogs wherever I go now. I see them in my sleep. They talk in my dreams and speak several languages fluently. They drive cars but are not very good drivers, particularly the smaller breeds.
People are starting to look like dogs to me and dogs are starting to look like people, famous people, and they are everywhere and I can’t tell them apart.I tried to treat a helpful cashier at the grocery store with a dog snack. I asked a visitor to our house if he needed to go pee-pee. I tried to pet our UPS driver on the head. I’m under a lot of pressure. It’s all from this year of the dogs and now Benedict Cumberbatch is a Great Dane.
My son just came home. He does not look like a dog but he’s drooling just the same, from the generosity of Novocaine, courtesy of the family dentist and some cavities.
Cumberbatch, right ? I asked. He slurred and shook in agreement, trying to manage saliva and composure, “YESSS, but more SSSherlock than Dr.SSSStrange”. Callie is worried about me. I wonder if she needs to go for walk?”
Boo Radley, 2018
“If you were picking a buddy for a buddy trip, Boo would be your buddy, your boy, your wingman. He could help drive, if he could only reach the pedals, but he probably wouldn’t pay much attention to the road. Boo would pick good music without consulting a playlist and there would be no complaining if your dinner came entirely from a gas station and consisted of a corn dog, one giant bag of Nacho Cheese Doritos and a giant cherry Icee. None. It’s never too late for a case of puppy love.
6-month-old Boo is one of the happiest and luckiest dogs ever; he’s a unique recipe of Basset Hound with a generous pinch of Cocker Spaniel to spice things up. Boo would rather roam the aisles and meet people at The Home Depot than prance around at a dog park. He’s happy, really happy, in a better than Pharrell Williams Happy kind of way and can’t nuthin’ bring him down. Because Boo almost wasn’t. Wasn’t like he almost died, was like he almost didn’t get that far in the first place.
His mother was liberated from a horribly cruel situation in the middle of a harsh North Carolina winter. She was pregnant, padlocked to a tree and starving. Rescued and fostered by a kind soul, she delivered Boo and his six siblings two weeks later. All of them survive. The love you take is equal to the love you make, whether it’s puppy love or not.”
“4 year-old Ozzie is a rescued, mixed Labrador Retriever. He was one of the first dogs we photographed before this was even a project. We’ve learned a lot since then.
Ozzie was a great and patient teacher as I constantly fiddled around with the lights and cameras while my wife and faithful dog whisperer Callie kept his gaze.
I’m often told my photographs make a dog look sad. I’m not sure I agree with that. To me this photograph of Ozzie is more heroic than it is sad. I look for that sort of thing in dogs and people. And if you’d expect Ozzie to be one of the sweetest and happiest dogs around, you would be right.”
“I’m not one to brag, but my first extensively published work came when I was a High School yearbook photographer. It was my first book. In my junior year, I was sent to a yearbook photographers workshop taught by the photographers who did all the formal yearbook photos for our yearbook. A cross between long-distance runners and prison guards, these photographers excelled in the art of forcing an average of 1,500 children a day into friendly poses and acceptable smiles before moving on to the next school.
Sometimes I think if #YearOfTheDogs were actually to become a book, it could be kind of a dog’s version of a High School yearbook. Full of inspired friendly dogs with ambitious and heartfelt quotes, they could list their altruistic plans for the future along side humorous ribbing from their dog classmates.
Sadie, Class of 2018. Future Hounds of America, Honor Roll, Quiz Bowl, Spanish Club. Although she’s almost 7, Sadie really showed the freshman dogs a thing or two about how to jump around excitedly at the dog park this year. After missing out on the State Championships, everyone is looking for Sadie to get back into Varsity Ball Chasing after a mid-season injury sidelined her. She founded the Shelter Dog Club and counts Beagle, Foxhound and Labrador as her primary influences but is very well liked by her purebred classmates. Sadie enjoys helping others and was voted “Most likely to kiss you without being asked.”
“Daria was a flight risk. She’d already traveled across multiple state lines to get to us, yet we didn’t see it coming. We work from within a patch of concrete in a very-active 43,000 square-foot open-plan warehouse, divided into territories like the strategy board game Risk. I currently have an alliance with a company that is renovating homes and they have amassed nearly a thousand 38-gallon water heaters on our sovereign border to the South. To the North, a formidable artillery of salvaged street bricks and stacks and piles of recycled wood. We are at peace.
Daria’s entrance, planned for weeks in advance, was greeted with the fanfare reserved for Chow Chows of her stature, like that of a head of state or other visiting dignitary. All seemed to be going perfectly as she reviewed the studio and personnel on hand when she somehow discovered a very lost squirrel behind the water heaters.
Daria launched an immediate and thorough investigation for the fugitive squirrel that by now had successfully navigated a labyrinth of reclaimed flooring and hand-hewn beams to the open front door and was eight miles away. In her mind, Daria never let go of that squirrel and from this point on, Callie and I were viewed as complicit in the escape and not to be fully trusted regardless of how many individually-wrapped slices of low-fat American cheese she might have folded up in her pocket.
No offense to smart dogs but they will exploit your insecurities, make you feel good about your photography and then bolt when you look at the back of the camera. Just saying. Leashes were used at times, photographs were made occasionally and the squirrel has not been seen since.”
“Sex, Dogs and Rock and Roll. Louie lost his virginity to a much older woman in a bright yellow trailer in suburban Atlanta on Super Bowl Sunday in 2017. Before you hit the unfollow button, you should know that he became a man in the name of science and good music but his exploits did not involve cloning as in the case of Barbra Streisand’s dog.
When I became of “The Age,” my mother’s idea of “The Talk,” was forcing my older brother to take me to see Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, a film that featured a grand song and dance number called Every Sperm is Sacred. I was 21.
7 year-old Lou Dog, his stage name, is in a rock and roll band, a boy band of sorts, where he is the front man but doesn’t sing or play an instrument or need to as his on-stage theatrics rival the vertical prowess of Eddie Van Halen performing the 1984 hit song Jump. As Louie tells it, what happens in Atlanta does not stay in Atlanta, and after a series of successful gigs, the band wanted to preserve his legacy by recording a “single” of sorts for future use at a studio that specializes in that sort of recording.
The limits of good taste and word count on Instagram prevent me from being more specific except to say the rest is Super Bowl history with Tom Brady and Lou Dog scoring big on that day.”
“Carlos Santana graces the cover of the current issue of the American Association of Retired Persons magazine. I know because I am a member of the AARP, and so is Carlos but neither of us is retired. Like many of you, we’ve been caught up in all the reports about the 50th anniversary of Woodstock.
I used to jam with Carlos for hours and hours, thrashing on drums in the basement of my parents’ home. With “Oye Como Va” blasting from a ratty eight-track tape player, my father would turn the lights on and off, delivering a morse code message that Woodstock was over and dinner was on the table. It was on this cue that Chris, our family dog and my sole audience member, made her move for the exits.
Ryder is a soulful dog with groovy tastes in music but questionable table manners, having once swallowed an entire squirrel whole. It can be rightly assumed that the squirrel did not recover. Ryder, who is midway through his 12th year as a Hungarian Vizsla, has no regrets.
He’s Old World. A dapper gentleman who regularly wears a bespoke suit but is never overdressed. His accent is hard to place and reveals neither his southern upbringing or European lineage. Although qualified for membership in the AARP, he has no interest in retiring just yet or discounts on hotel rooms.”
“When she came into our studio I was overwhelmed and honestly didn’t really know where to begin placing the lights. There’s a lot of hair to match her personality.
Yesterday we photographed two dogs, one a 14 year-old Greyhound that was a real joy to work with.”