The Running of the Dogs
Michael Crouser’s Dog Run was never intended to be what it became. The series of provocative black and white photographs of mutts interacting in urban playgrounds (or ‘dog runs’), was initially supposed to be figure studies of Great Danes in motion, bringing to life Crouser’s elegant visions of “musculature, movement, shapes and glistening coats.” Residing on the sidelines however, Crouser became a voyeur to a far more complex situation—dogs playing wildly with no regard to being watched. Fascinated by their interaction, the photographer shot over several years what would become Dog Run, “some very intense, very goofy images of eyes and tongues and legs and tails flying around.”
Though he has never had a dog himself, he couldn’t help but be drawn on his runs around the Lake of the Isles in Minneapolis to the relatively new phenomenon of the urban dog park; and the sea of dogs that inhabited them. In fact, he often found it rather therapeutic remaining motionless for hours on end whilst the animals around him went wild.
Crouser’s strong aesthetic is far from the saccharine soaked displays we so often see of perfectly groomed golden pups playing with balls in ribbon-threaded baskets. These dogs were shot as they really are, raw in monochrome. Yes, the images are intense, however they are not entirely dark, and are often tinged with humour.
Crouser explains, “I’ve been asked more than once ‘What’s with the darkness? What’s with the intensity?’ I can only say that if photography is a personal expression, then I must be tapping into a darker, more intense, more emotional side with photography than I’m able to otherwise. I don’t think people see me as “dark” in mood or in character, but there is a lot of intensity and heaviness, and even violence in my photography, but also quiet humor. I believe that the most successful of my photographs, and the larger collection of works put together are really a pretty true reflection of myself. I sometimes feel that my more personal work has more in common with painting or rough pottery or certain types of music than it does with much that is out there in the photography world. I don’t expect everyone to see that, it’s just how it feels.”
Crouser continues to hone his “magical” craft, and admits he is constantly learning and improving, publishing his works for others to see and consider, but ultimately embarking on a very personal journey. With his camera now pointed on his next project The Ranch (a series depicting the disappearing world of cattle ranches in the Colorado hills), it’s a certainty his intelligent aesthetic will be thriving for years to come.