Book Review: The Silence of Dogs in Cars by Martin Usborne
I am a dog fanatic. I adore our four-legged friends far more than is considered healthy and I’m well-known for becoming distracted mid-conversation when a potential canine pal comes trotting by. So it’s safe to say that Dogs in Cars, a stunning book of photographs depicting, erm, dogs in cars would be right up my street.
The images, taken mostly at night, are snapped by photographer Martin Usborne who as a young child was once left in a car (for a short time, I should add), silent and wondering if anyone would come back. It was around the same age that he fell in love with dogs (my kind of person) and, 30 years later, the two experiences came together in a wonderfully cinematic book. “I saw a TV documentary that included footage of a dog being put in a plastic bag and kicked,” writes Usborne in the book’s introduction. “What appalled me most was that the dog could not speak.”
Through a series of haunting and occasionally humorous images, Usborne explores the plight of animals at the hands of the humans who claim to care for them by rendering them silent and submissive. It’s a truly great collection of photographs (completely staged and no animals were harmed in the making of the book) which, on the surface, will appeal to dog lovers for the funny, heart-warming pictures of dogs knocking about in cars, but also has the potential to go much deeper. Surprisingly, it’s also pretty profound stuff. Not only do we explore our relationship with animals and ideas of speciesism (why do we think we’re superior to animals – even the ones treated as family members?), we are urged to explore the parts of ourselves that we might be suppressing.
As I flicked through the book’s pages, I was drawn to the otherworldly, almost forlorn, nature of the photographs. There’s Bolt captured barking from the back seat of a white car and surrounded by a stifling darkness. Is there anyone there to listen to him? Then there’s Lola, dejected and scruffy in the driving seat, staring contemplatively out of the window during a rainstorm. It’s fascinating material and I was surprised by the range of emotions I felt as I studied the images closer. Of course, there are hilarious pics because, well, dogs are brilliant entertainers just by virtue of their nature. Keep an eye out for Margaux and her person-like stance (which I recognise in Housemate’s pooch) and the wonderfully giant Alfie.
Even if you’re not an obsessive dog fan like me, I’d urge you to pick up a copy of this book. Not only is it visually stunning, but it provides some serious food for thought about our treatment of animals and of each other.
By Emma Yates-Badley, Literary Editor
The Silence of Dogs in Cars by Martin Usborne is published by Hoxton Mini Press and available to buy now.
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