To be honest, I have always had mixed feelings about William Wegman's work. I can't shake the feeling that his Weimaraners look sad, or at minimum annoyed. But much like my view of George Rodrigue's Blue Dog tempered into deep appreciation after learning more about his relationship to his muse, Tiffany, after reading the press notes for William Wegman: Fay at the Akron Art Museum, I am looking at Wegman's photos anew. And seeing his dog Fay as his collaborator, not simply his tool, makes me think differently about his work.
Here are some excerpts that changed my mind:
Grief-stricken by Ray’s death, Wegman made the decision not to get another dog, but some years later he came to meet another Weimaraner:
“When we first met in Memphis, Tennessee, she was six months old and her name was Cinnamon Girl. I named her Fay after Fay Wray, of course, but also after my first color Polaroid with Man Ray and the nail polish, which I had titled Fay Ray. Her fur was taupe, lighter and warmer-toned than Man Ray’s, and she had yellow eyes like in a Rousseau painting. I had no intention of photographing Fay. Man Ray was irreplaceable. I didn’t want to mar my memory of him.
… In a short time Fay matured from a coltish youth into a Garboesque beauty. My pictures grew with her. Now she was the muse, the adored one. Skin-deep beauty became the soul of my work.”
Fay had a chameleon-like quality very different from Man Ray's concrete presence. The bond between the artist and his muse is undeniable. Images of Fay balanced upon an ironing boarding in Sphinx (1987) and coolly starting into the lens from beneath a black net in Netted (1988) show her deep trust in Wegman.
I still don't know if balancing a dog on an ironing board is the best idea. But I think I see more love and less annoyance in Fay's eyes. And to me that makes a big difference.
If you are in the Akron area, you have a chance to hear William Wegman speak on May 15, 2009 at 6:30 pm. Tickets are available here.
William Wegman: Fay runs from May 16 to August 16, 2009 at the Akron Art Museum.