The award-winning Jane Sobel Klonsky has been a force in the photography biz for decades. Sports, travel, lifestyle – she’s done it all. In a very special project, she unites the professional and the personal, as she focuses on the relationships between older dogs and their owners. Here is a short chat, ahead of her visit to The Last Bookstore this Thursday night.
Eric Larkin – Your photography has taken you around the world, from Kenya to Japan to Papua New Guinea – you’re Lara Croft with a camera. Do you have any advice or caveats for someone just starting to build a photojournalist career?
Jane Sobel Klonsky – Experiment. Think outside the box. Don’t just go for the beautiful pics. Start where you are and with what’s in your part of the world. Meet and learn about the people —what they do, how they think, what inspires them, and what is difficult for them. Look for the nitty-gritty. Then go out, listen to your gut, and create. Research other photographers, advertisements, TV commercials, etc.. See what works and why it works. You can learn from that.
EL – Your recent book Unconditional: Older Dogs, Deeper Love is a lot more than just cute dog photos. How you did you come to create it?
JSK – I got the idea for my project one day as I was sitting with my insurance broker, Angela. What interested me most was her 13-year-old Bulldog, Clementine, who she brought with her to work every day. I remember the moment that Angela reached out and petted Clemmie, and I found myself wanting to know more about their relationship. I asked Angela if she would let me photograph them together. Clemmie had just been diagnosed with bone cancer. We thought she didn’t have long, so I did a shoot the next day. I had always wanted to do a series about dogs, but nothing seemed to click. Now I knew what I wanted to do.
EL – Can you talk about the heart and mission behind it?
JSK – Unconditional: Older Dogs, Deeper Love is an extension of my photo series, Project Unconditional, which is both a celebration of the human-animal relationship and the particular beauty and loving nature of older dogs. My hope is that people will see the photos and be inspired to take more time with their dogs, be more “in the moment”, and appreciate the love they offer.
EL – What’s your earliest memory or best experience with a dog?
JSK – I have always had dogs, and I’ve loved all my dogs. Doing this project has made me appreciate the time I spend with my current dogs, Charlie and Sam, much more. Charlie, a Goldendoodle and the older of the two, is 9 years old now. He’s always been a good boy. I had him certified as a therapy dog and take him to nursing homes and other places; he brings joy wherever he goes. He will also let you do anything to him. Dress him up, and he just sits there as happy as can be. Now he definitely wants to be with me more. I think that’s one of the special things about having a senior dog. They are happy just being next to you.
EL – The last time I adopted a dog, we went to a shelter and said, “Who’s least likely to be adopted?” and we took that dog – who was amazing, by the way – just a hint of Cherry Eye, and big deal? It healed right up. Is that a good approach for older dogs or is there a better way to do it? And for the folks who really connect with this, where should they go?
JSK – After talking with so many adopters, it is clear that dogs needing a little more help and attention can make the best companions. It’s a two-way street, though. I think you need to consider what you can offer a dog, so that you find the best match. Fostering a dog is often a good way to see what kind of dog parent you are. I have met so many people with “foster failure” dogs. They volunteered to foster for a rescue and then found they couldn’t part with their foster dog. It’s good to think of what kind of dog you want, but sometimes it is just about falling in love with a particular dog. You would do anything for them.
EL – This one isn’t a question about the book exactly, but can we talk about Great Danes? I briefly took care of my friend’s Great Dane, whose name is Gatsby, and Gatsby helped me review a book about Vikings. I read the book, he ate the book – it was a collaboration. Having a Dane, in my experience, is like having a dog that is also a cartoon character, because everything feels a little exaggerated. It’s like, if you’re nice enough to all animals, the Dog Gods will grant you a little time with a Dane, as a reward. I know you’ve had them, but they’re not for everyone, right? You need to be set-up to handle their size and power. I’m a grown man, and he would drag me down the street – with no ill intention – he’d just caught a scent off a shrub and I was going with him whether I liked it or not!
JSK – I LOVED my Great Danes. They are truly gentle giants. Interestingly, our Danes didn’t need a lot of space inside our home. Each dog found their own easy chair or corner of a couch, and that’s where they would curl up when at home inside. In all the years we had Danes, never once did one of their powerful tails break anything. Once, we did have an incident with a couch, though. Our first Great Danes, Otto and Maggie, lived with me and my husband in our studio loft in Chelsea in New York City. One night when my husband and I went out for dinner, we came back to find our couch – which was a Jennifer Convertible foam couch – chewed up, and little pieces of foam were all over the living room. It was like there was a huge hail storm! We never found out which one ate the couch. When our daughter was born, we had another Dane named Moose, who was 165 lbs. Our 5-lb-8-oz baby would sleep on him. He never moved, letting her sleep. All the Great Danes I know want to sit right next to you with their butts on the couch seat or on the seat of a chair, glued to your side, with their feet on the floor. Just like a human!