Friday, June 12, 2015

Book Review: Willam Wegman Puppies (photo essay with words)

Puppies, by William Wegman (Hyperion Press, 1997, 96 pages, $24.95)

Classic Coffee Table

Everyone has coffee table books. What happens to yours? Do they get covered up with magazines, newspapers, other books so you eventually forget they are there, hidden in the bottom of the pile? Of course, you meant to look at the coffee table book photos often and eventually even finish the book, drinking a cup of coffee, feet up on the table – but life always interferes, right?


Even William Wegman non-fans will be converted with this early book and become inspired to look more closely into his work which now includes calendars, notecards, videos, even a sculpture (Portland, OR). This book, Puppies, will stay on the top of your coffee table pile to gaze upon often, and to open.

In The Beginning

Wegman took home a ‘Weim’ (weimeraner) puppy and immediately took a photo of little Man Ray (this first photo actually appears in the book) that started it all – a national career that has lasted more than 20 years, in TV and in academia, back and forth across the country.

Little Man Ray taught Wegman all about patience, laughter, creativity and more.

Next came Fay Ray, followed by her litter, and even more puppies – three generations of puppies in all, and each one different.

My absolute favorite set of four photos is titled, Rocks and Stones. As you know, puppies (and babies) can fall asleep anywhere so Wegman puts a few puppies on a beach of rocks the same color as the puppies. It is up to you to find the puppies and, since this is sometimes classified as a children’s book, I bet you will be slower to find the pups than your little human.

Puppies is More than Just Photos

Puppies follows Wegman’s litters through their first few weeks but is more than just adorable still photos (puppies sleeping) or ‘flying’ or running or piling up (on each other in puppy piles) or with-simple-props photos. Photos are small to full-page or larger, the best combination to prevent monotony.

Wegman is also a fascinating writer, one I would read more words by. A typical two-page spread may contain four different sizes of fonts with a long and large sentence following on the next page but the words take you into the world of not only puppies but also into the world of a man learning about loving puppies. And you learn, vicariously, how to help a mom-dog deliver, how anxious she becomes if you take one out of her sight, how she cares for her new family and teaches them to be independent.

We usually get our puppies at about age 8 weeks: in Puppies, you can experience the fun you missed.

I have never been a Wegman-fan until now, primarily because I don’t think dressing dogs up is fun. However, Wegman’s work of “just puppies” in different poses changed my mind. Some photos are outside, some are prop-driven, some are just puppies. I am now going to seek out his calendars and especially his children’s books.


I especially love the photo captions, nearly all one-word captions that are simply perfect. There are none that I could come up with to top his photo captions, and in just one word!

If you can get your hands in this Wegman book, you will be profoundly delighted. If you can’t, try another Wegman work.

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