In the age of digital cameras and iPhones, it’s easy to take a great picture – you can snap as shots many as you like while you struggle with your uncooperative canine, plus there’s a filter to fix everything. That’s what makes shooting on film (you know, actual real film) so special.
London-based dog photographer, Mr. Bones shoots his furry, four-legged subjects on 35mm film, with beautiful results. Inspired by the candid and iconic work of Elliot Erwitt and Tony Ray-Jones, his street photography captures the spontaneous moments of fun, curiosity and charm that dogs are so good at.
As well as working on personal commissions for hip hounds and their owners, his work is also on display in bars and cafes across London, and available to purchase via his website. We caught up with Tom to get the lowdown on Mr. Bones and find out what he loves most about photographing dogs.
Why did you start taking pictures of dogs?
It began as a bit of a hobby. I always enjoyed meeting new dogs when I walked mine in the park and I started taking pictures on my phone and putting them on Instagram. It got a great response online and quickly became a ‘thing’. I cycle London a lot and I began stop whenever I saw an interesting looking dog. Anyone who cycles knows that can happen a lot! It grew pretty quickly from there – I started taking it more seriously and shooting on my camera, and now I have a few exhibitions around cafes and bars in the North London area, with plans for more over the summer.
What do you try to capture when you take a picture?
I wanted Mr. Bones to be all about capturing the character of a dog. I find straight dog portraits a bit boring – by making a dog pose or crafting your shot too much you lose all the character and fun that you experience when you meet a dog for the first time or hang out with an old friend. The pictures I take are less about well composed shots of different breeds and more about the raw energy, charm and humour you find in individual dogs.
What and who inspires your photographs?
A lot is inspired by street photography. I am a huge fan of street photography and candid photographers of the 1950s-1970s. In particular, Elliot Erwitt is a huge inspiration, not only for his dog series, but for the humour that he can find and present in every day situations. Similarly, Tony Ray-Jones had an incredible ability to cram huge amounts of character and narrative into each work. Both photographers looked for moments humour and charm in often dull and grey environments. Dogs in London epitomises that for me.
You shoot on 35mm film – do you prefer it to digital?
Film is a great extension of that candid photography mentality. It forces you to be selective and really hone your craft of finding a subject and getting the perfect shot in one without having to overshoot. I’m certain that I could get a better frame or angle or composition if I took more time over it, but the moment would have passed. Of course you can do that with digital (and I do occasionally) but with film you feel like you really are taking a plunge and when it works, it feels fantastic! Plus, I prefer the look of film – it suits the raw, organic nature of the shots. Digital would be too clean!
How do you capture your images?
The majority of pictures are taken when I’m on the move either walking Baxter (my dog) or cycling to work. If I spot, I stop! However, I am doing a few commissions at the moment and plan to do more. I have got little interest in selling my existing work (although they are for sale on the site – a man’s got to eat!) I would much rather continue to do what I love; make new friends and take more pictures!
How do people normally react when you ask to take a picture of their dog in the street?
It’s so important to me to capture a natural moment, that I usually (and cheekily) don’t ask the owner until after I’ve taken the picture. But people are always so kind and open to the photographs. People love to talk about their dogs. I’ve met an old women who proudly displayed her handbag dog on the way back from a grooming session in Kensington, to a homeless man showing me how his dog can walk on his hind legs in Mile End. No matter who you meet, they are always keen to share stories about their dog.
Tell us a bit about your own pets? Do they like being photographed?
I have a dog called Baxter. She’s a Tibetan terrier, they were bred for companionship, and that’s what she does best, we just sort of hang out together. She’s not very good at the usual dog stuff like running or fetching, but that’s okay because neither am I. I have reels and reels of photographs of her, although, she’s such a hard dog to photograph because she’s a black ball of fluff! There’s a great shot of her nose that sells really well on the site. What she does best is just sticking with me and giving me the patience to take her photo or take photos of other dogs while she rests on the grass at my feet – I couldn’t ask for more.
What are your plans for Mr Bones?
Mr. Bones became a project to find the character in dogs and slowly I’m learning that so much of that relates to what that dog means to their owner. I’d like to explore that in more detail with a photo series either in an exhibition or book form.
See more of Mr. Bones’ work, book a commission for your pooch or get your paws on some his prints and products at: hellomrbones.com