Irina van der Sluijs

Canine companion

I love being around dogs. Always have. Since early childhood I’ve been drawn to animals – hamsters, rabbits, horses, parakeets, butterflies, dogs, any species that I encountered while growing up in a small village in the countryside.

If I ask myself the question why I love dogs, there is a simple answer and a more layered one. The simple one is that dogs – my Springer in particular – are funny, lively, happy, crazy & adorable companions in life.

The other is that it amazes me how I can lose track of time in the company of animals – and mind you, I am a natural born timekeeper. It’s what animal photographer Tim Flach calls ‘a sense of wonderment about nature’. For him it’s the complexity of nature, for me it’s also the simplicity.

Take the simplicity of breathing for example. I am in awe of my dog’s breath – the moving up and down of this furry wrapping of life fills me with humbleness. It’s just there: life – no more, no less.

‘These incredible adaptable animals extend our senses’, Flach writes in the introduction of his book Dogs-Gods. This is indeed what the layered answer relates to. Our being is extended by their being.

There is a connection then that goes beyond the owner- pet thing. It is the area where the dog reacts on my sadness or anger and where we build a relationship based on habits and some form of silent understanding.

Flach explores the relationship between animals and human. ‘We anthropomorphize the animal’, he states in Photo Wisdom (Lewis Blackwell, 2009).

That is indeed so. At the same time, I find that some of his abstract pictures and portraits of animals invite us to see them for who they are not for what we like them to be.

His cover image of the May/June issue of the Economists’ Intelligent Life is a great example. It takes guts to put this ape on the cover of a respected magazine – big plus for Intelligent Life.

I anticipate Flach’s upcoming book ‘More than Human’ to find out more.