The largest retrospective of William Wegman's quirky art - photographs, paintings and videos - opens July 1 at the Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture. He spoke with Jennifer Drapkin about photographing his Weimaraners, including Man Ray and Fay Ray.
You once said you felt as if you were "nailed to the dog cross." What did you mean?
In the early 1970s, in the beginning, I didn't even differentiate between working with the dog and not working with the dog. And then, after a while, I would get reviewed, and people would say, "Oh, I only want the dog pieces." And I became known in popular culture for the dog stuff, and it got to be misleading. That's not how I thought of myself—you know, the type of person who fetishizes kittens or pink or babies, who latches onto something.
So you don’t feel nailed to the dog cross anymore?
No. Now I see it as a wonderful thing that happened, and I am deeply entrenched in it. I feel blessed and very lucky. One year I took off working with the dog, and we were both pretty unhappy. Man Ray would slump down in my studio, knowing there would be no games for him. And the first time I started painting, Fay looked at me like, "What are you doing?" Man Ray did the same thing when he saw me driving. He looked at my foot and the wheel and couldn't figure out what was going on.
Your dogs seem to want to be involved.
And they look great too. You always get a chance to look at them. If there were two beautiful women on the couch, and I started staring at them, one of us would start feeling uncomfortable.
At least one of you.
But the dogs don't mind.