The Dogs of Cheltenham

  • Neil Buchan Grant

A fine art book project raising funds for Cheltenham Animal Shelter

With travel severely restricted this year, I wanted to share one of the ways I've dealt with lockdown, stay relatively sane and try to foster some creativity. I read that charities and in particular animal shelters had suffered greatly during the lockdown and being a big dog lover, wanted to contribute. I thought it might be fun to produce a very sexy coffee table photo book featuring 50 of Cheltenham's nicest dogs (a purely arbitary judgement on my part!). I designed the project so that I would photograph each dog in return for a donation to the charity. Each dog would also be included in the book, a luxurious, faux-leather bound treasure!
There were many obsticles to overcome, not least finding a suitable space to shoot in. I eventually leased a beautiful Regency apartment which boasted extremely high ceilings which could accommodate my large canvas backdrop. A few additions to my photographic and lighting equipment later and I was set to go! I posted flyers and posters all over town and before long I had floods of applications coming in. The animal shelter used its social media to bring in even more applications and before long I nearly had my 50 doggies!
I've had more fun doing this project than I've had in years. From the first shoot it has been a hilarious roller coaster of slapstick fun, chasing dogs around the apartment! Horrified at the prospect of one of the dogs peeing on my precious hand-painted backdrop, I kept all the dogs occupied from the moment they entered the space. I and the owners would tease and cajole the 'talent' with treats and commands. I would distract them with squeaky toys, woofing sounds and dog whistles. By far the most succesful ploy was to insert a rubber duck between my legs and on queue, squeeze my knees together repeatedly to make the duck "QUACK" loudly. This ungainly and undignified action almost always illicited a magical head tilt from the puzzled dog!
The project is on hold at the minute due to the 2nd national lockdown but so far I have photographed 30 dogs and I have another 16 ready to shoot. Together we have raised over £2800 for the shelter. I would have probably saved myself some money just writing them a big cheque, but it wouldn't have been half as much fun working with all these great dogs and meeting their lovely owners!! I hope you see your favourite breed on this page!