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The photohumourist

Phil Coomes | 09:57 UK time, Monday, 19 April 2010

Dogs in the car

Humorous photographs of dogs equals Elliot Erwitt period. Or at least that was what I believed.

Yet recently I came across the work of Paul Treacy who attributes part of the reason he became a photographer to his family pet, which he described as: "A big, strong ginger Labrador".

Paul explained:

"As I prepared to go to art school I knew he'd not be coming with me and so I began to photograph him. My becoming a photographer is most likely down to him, I'd say. I left art school in my third year and moved to England to study photography and so the photos I'd made of him became even more precious. I've been photographing dogs and their people ever since.
"What fascinates me about dogs is their sense of humour, their playfulness and their mischievousness, qualities."

Paul would describe himself as a street photographer, but that was not always the case as in the early 1990s he was a news wire photographer, later what he calls a "stay-at-home-dad" and more recently he has moved into shooting video and marketing his work via the citizen journalism site, Demotix.

A couple of Paul's projects made me wonder how long he'd spent on them, were they drawn together from shots recorded over many years? One of these sets looks at the stars and stripes; Paul calls it his Flag Etiquette series. I asked Paul how it came together.

Paul said:

"I come from a country where the flag, the Irish tri-colour is, for the most part, treated with utmost respect.
"Given our troubled history, it's no surprise. When I arrived in New York City in May 1994, I was immediately taken aback at the ubiquity of the Stars and Stripes. Many of the ways it was flown and otherwise displayed were, I felt, rather odd. I began to wonder about the extent to which people really understood the protocol and so I began to observe both good and bad examples of US flag etiquette. As the series progressed I came to realize that the images were a metaphor for so many issues in contemporary American life."

Photo by Paul Treacy

In 1999 Paul joined the Photojournalism Program at the International Center of Photography in New York. It was during this course that he felt he began to "loosen up" as a photographer and this "pointed out to me that my work was becoming quite sardonic and witty".

He said:

"I learned that photographers should never throw away bad pictures but that we should come back to then from time to time. Study them. Learn from them. We can make pictures that are ahead of their time, that don't appear to fit anywhere. But as we explore our files later on we may find some of those old pictures and see them in a new light. They may work alongside other images made since and form a new series.
"They may have been early indicators of new bodies of work yet to be shot. That is why I regularly go through my old pictures. I've often matched up images made many years apart but that complement each other in new and exciting ways. For example, I have a series I'm working on now about balloons.
"Simple, colourful balloons. The kind that children love. Have always loved. I realised recently while making a picture of balloons while walking along the Southbank in London that I had several other pictures that I should pull out of my archives and play with. One day I hope to publish a collection of these as an essay or even a book."

But what of the future?

"Now that my children are settled in school and I grapple with the best route back into my profession, I am fascinated by the high-definition video capability of modern digital SLR cameras. I've been playing with a pocket video camera over the last couple of years and mixing it up with stills to interesting effect. I think that video is an interesting way to package strong stills photography. As a photographer and filmmaker I plan to continue mixing both in my future projects."

Here are a few more of Paul's street photographs.

A toy dog sits atop a wooden motorcycle as a real dog stands in doorway of a store in New York

An inquisitive Dalmatian dog out for a walk

A dog with a fake forearm in its mouth on Halloween night in New York City

You can see more of Paul's work on his website or his blog, the photohumourist.

Paul is represented by Demotix.


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