Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Shelter hounds venerated in print

‘Rover’ photographer to work with Blaine County dogs

Express Staff Writer

Honey, shown above, is just one of the 209 dogs featured in the second edition of ‘Rover,’ a book whose creator strives to capture the personalities of each dog by having them look straight into the lens. Courtesy photos

Renowned commercial, fashion and portrait photographer Andrew Grant is pacing through the back room of the Animal Shelter of the Wood River Valley, scoping out the dogs.

Occasionally, he'll stop to speak to one, to comment on a possible breed or to ask a shelter employee how long a certain animal has been there.

Contrary to appearances, the San Diego resident isn't looking for a new best friend—he's looking for a new subject. Grant is the photographer-creator of "Rover," a 10-pound coffee-table book filled with more than 400 photos of dogs staring soulfully into the camera lens.

The book is inspired by rescue dogs and soon could help raise money for the Animal Shelter of the Wood River Valley, along with shelters in Jackson, Wyo., and across the country.

"You can get really beautiful dogs at the shelter," Grant said, adding that almost every dog in the previous two editions of his book was a rescue pet. "The whole point of [this book] is to encourage people to welcome a shelter pet into their lives."

Proceeds from "Rover" have been going to shelters nationwide since the book came out at the end of 2009, and Grant has since started selling pages in his book to people who want to preserve the personality of their dogs in printed form. The proceeds from those sales and the sales of other customizations—special dust covers, for example, or special editions of the book for businesses—go to shelters in the towns where Grant travels to set up photo shoots.

This March and July, Grant will set up shop in Derek and Sophie Craighead's second home in Sun Valley—Sophie Craighead is a co-founder of the shelter—and shoot photos of valley dogs whose owners have purchased space in the third edition of "Rover." Profits from the space sales will go to the shelter here, while profit from the book sales will go to the shelters of Grant's choice.

Grant will also shoot sponsored photos of shelter pets, courtesy of donors who buy space in the book to bring attention to long-term shelter residents.

The beginning of the massive "Rover" project came in February 2009, when Grant was on a shoot for Bulthaup kitchens and the showroom owner's two French bulldogs kept walking through the set.

"It would have been really rude of me to ask her to put the dogs away," Grant said. "So I thought, 'OK, let's just use them.'"

The dogs became the centerpiece of the shoot, and soon Grant was considering doing a photography book on dogs. But when he heard that the economy—and subsequent foreclosures—had sent millions of dogs to shelters in the U.S., his focus shifted to helping shelter dogs. He began shooting dog portraits within two weeks of the Bulthaup shoot, and by August, he was doing press checks at his printer in China.

"I'm pretty impulsive," Grant said. "But I don't want [that speed] to sound like I'm bragging. I've never worked on anything where the pieces fell together so quickly. I knew I was onto something really good."

The book became a status symbol in December 2009 when talk show host Ellen Degeneres gave the tome to friend and fellow television sensation Oprah Winfrey for Christmas. Soon, Grant was hard at work on the second, and then third, editions.

"This was supposed to be a one-year project," Grant said with a laugh. "And now we're in year three."

Grant spends anywhere from 15 minutes to four hours with each dog, depending on how cooperative—or not—the pet is. Grant said he averages roughly an hour with each animal, but sometimes shoots don't go as well as planned. He spent four hours with one rescue dog that was extremely skittish, and said he always takes as long as he needs to get the perfect shot.

"I have to get them looking straight into the lens," he said. "You can't fake that in PhotoShop. It gives you the sensation that you're looking into their soul. Until the owners say, 'Yes, that's my dog,' I'm not happy."

Grant said he never thought he would be a pet photographer, and that he has no special skill with dogs. In fact, he said, he doesn't even have a dog himself, due to his busy travel schedule.

"People ask me if I'm a dog whisperer or something," he said, laughing. "I'm a treat dispenser, at best."

Grant will be in Ketchum until March 27, and will return to the valley after a trip to Wyoming at the end of July.

Katherine Wutz:

Interested in a spread?

Contact Jo-Anne Dixon, executive director of the Animal Shelter of the Wood River Valley, at 788-4351 for specific dates and appointments. Prices start at $5,000 for a two-page spread. Animal lovers can also sponsor a spread of an animal currently at the shelter, which could help that pet find a home.

Want 'Rover'?

Rover is sold locally at Silver Creek Outfitters and Bellissimo in Ketchum.

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