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104 PDN | October 2012 |
unproductive. Instead, he decided to cast dogs with
expressive faces, and to pick cars to match.
Usborne lights his photographs using simple, handheld LED lights. The lights are not powerful, but using a
Canon 5D Mark II allowed Usborne to shoot high ISOs.
Each photo, he says, takes a few hours to complete.
He discovered that people are more willing to lend
their dogs for a photo shoot than their cars. He would
leave his card on the windshields of cars he liked,
and also contacted an auto club which let him borrow
Some of the images have been published in The
Independent, and on the BBC and TIME magazine
Web sites. Last year, Usborne decided to publish the
work as a book. He chose 20 images and made a book
dummy using Blurb, the self-publishing platform, and
brought the layout to the Rencontres d’Arles festival.
The meetings he had set up yielded little, but one day
while standing in a queue (“I had decided to hold the
dummy under my arm,” he says) he “bumped into
someone who knew someone.” That led to a meeting
with Barbara Karpf of Kehrer Verlag, who offered him
a contract a short time later
To cover the book’s production costs, Usborne
launched a Kickstarter project this spring. After he
posted a video and text explaining the genesis of
the project and the need to raise funds for printing,
Usborne’s assistant worked almost full-time managing
the campaign and sending information to “influenc-
ers,” including publications and blogs. “A lot of support
came through Facebook and viral networks,” Usborne
says. “It was heartwarming to see how much support
it got. I got personal notes” from people sharing their
reactions to the project and his subjects. He also saw
an increased interest in his print sales. He had set a
goal of raising $15,000; he exceeded that by over 100
percent. The extra money will allow him to add to the
book’s production value, with an embossed cover and
higher quality paper.
As Usborne talks about how his dog portraits have
allowed him to explore difficult emotions, it’s easy to
imagine the work has been a kind of therapy as well as a
creative exploration. “The thing about depression is that
it represents emotions we want to lock away, but delving into that dark space can be quite creative,” he says.
Usborne is currently at work on more books. He has
one in the works about a long-time resident of Hoxton,
the East London neighborhood. He has just launched
Hoxton Mini Press, his own publishing imprint, with
plans to release a limited-edition book every one to
two years. Currently he’s in the midst of a yearlong
project to help animals and work with animal support
charities. He’s begun a blog about the project, which
he hopes will someday be the basis for a book.
All these additional projects should help him keep
from being pigeonholed as “the dog photographer.”
He says of his dog portraits, “There is a bit of thinking
that you can’t be serious if you work with animals, but
I don’t care that much because I realized if you want to
do something good, you have to do it from the heart.
If you genuinely do it from a good place, people get it.
I think people get that it’s not just a book about dogs.”