Over the past two years, photographer Thomas Roma spent countless mornings running around Dyker Beach Dog Run in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, holding an eight-foot-long pole attached to a camera. This contraption, which he’d rigged using supplies from Home Depot, allowed him to photograph the shadows of dogs from a bird’s-eye view.
“I looked like some kind of crackpot,” Roma told Hyperallergic. “Everyone at the dog park knew me because I was the maniac running around with the big yellow pole, chasing their dogs.”
This “crackpot” behavior produced some very expressive photographs: shots of the unleashed dogs’ shadows bring to mind cave paintings, noirish Nosferatus, and 19th-century-style silhouette portraiture. Roma cites his former colleague, the artist Kara Walker, who’s best known for her cut-paper silhouettes, as “a great inspiration.”
The series title, Plato’s Dogs, refers to the shadows projected on the walls in the philosopher’s “Allegory of the Cave.” The project, now a book published by PowerHouse and the subject of an upcoming exhibit at Steven Kasher Gallery, started as a playful exercise during walks with Tino, a standard poodle “who’s more than a dog to me,” Roma says. “He’s a friend.” The photographer was winding down his previous series, In the Vale of Cashmere, which documents Prospect Park’s hidden world of gay cruising. After printing the first batch of photos of dogs leaping and playing in the dusty run, he found they touched on something deeper than just the cuteness of frolicking pets: some shadow portraits seemed to reveal the dogs’ inner wild animals, while others seemed like outlines of their essential spirits.
In Jungian psychology, the shadow is the instinctive, irrational, unconscious aspect of the personality, both “a reservoir for darkness” and “the seat of creativity.” That characterization works as a visual metaphor in Plato’s Dogs: “Dogs are a creation of humans — bred for herding, sheep-hunting, sitting in our laps — but lurking inside, there there’s still this other wild thing,” Roma says. “The shadows, being such primitive drawings, make us aware that they’re also related to the wolf and the coyote.”
Pets and shadows aren’t exactly unique photo subjects: everyone on the internet is an amateur pet photographer, and every moody teenager with a camera has taken a picture of a shadow. But part of what’s so striking about Plato’s Dogs is how, by combining these two exhausted subjects, it makes both seem new again. It’s a reminder of the basic visual power that made them become clichéd in the first place.
Roma does also spend plenty of time photographing Tino’s physical form, not just his shadow — “There’s a satisfaction in looking at an animal,” he says — and is a big fan of the internet’s pet photography craze — “I think it’s the greatest thing the world.” If you want to go photograph a shadow and post it on Instagram, he won’t be snobby about it. “I like everything about internet photography,” he continues.
“I think it’s good news for everyone — that people feel this visual language is something they don’t have to be shy about. They don’t have to have some expert to tell them whether something is good or not.”
Thomas Roma’s Plato’s Dogs is published by powerHouse Books and available from Amazon and other online booksellers. Thomas Roma: The Plato’s Dogs Trilogy will be on view at Steven Kasher Gallery (515 West 26th Street, New York, NY) from. November 3rd- Dec 23rd.
Saudi Arabia Announces $1M “Freedom of Expression” Art Award
Kanye West, Roman Polanski, and Carl Andre are among the shortlisted artists.
British Museum Offers Greece “Exclusive NFT” of the Parthenon Marbles
“With the power of blockchain technology, there will be no question who the real owner is,” said a British Museum spokesperson.
The Public Theater Explores the Hurricane Katrina Diaspora in shadow/land
Written by Erika Dickerson-Despenza and directed by Candis C. Jones, this lyrical meditation on legacy, erotic fugitivity, and self-determination is on view in NYC.
MoMA to Co-Curate Exhibition With NYPD
Arrest Me, Daddy hopes to cast a more positive light on the work of law enforcement officers.
Repatriation-Inspired Fragrance Line Hopes to Heal Collector Wounds
The exotic scents of the Rapatriement line offer solace and joy to dismayed collectors who were forced to return looted artifacts.
The Rubin Museum Presents Death Is Not the End
Tibetan Buddhist and Christian works of art made across 12 centuries explore death, the afterlife, and the desire to continue to exist. On view in NYC.
Prince Harry to Star in New Van Gogh Biopic
The estranged prince said he took the role to raise awareness of mental health issues.
Vatican Partners With Balenciaga on “Spiritual” Menswear Line
A spokesperson for the church cited “shared values” with the fashion brand.
When I Am Empty Please Dispose of Me Properly
Ayanna Dozier, Ilana Harris-Babou, Meena Hasan, Lucia Hierro, Catherine Opie, Chuck Ramirez, and Pacifico Silano explore the myths of the American Dream at Brooklyn’s BRIC House.
Iran Issues Fatwa Against AI
A reinterpretation of the Quran through a queer lens, written by an AI chatbot, is said to cause the move.
Met Gala Announces 2023 “Looting and Plunder” Theme
Select A-list guests will be invited to wear any artifacts from the museum’s collection that have not yet been seized by the Manhattan DA’s office.
Pratt’s 2023 Fine Arts MFA Thesis Exhibition Is On View in Brooklyn
The two-part exhibition features the work of 41 graduating artists across disciplines, including painting, sculpture, printmaking, and integrated practices.
Florida School Censors Madonna and Child; Calls It “Assault on Family Values”
The school said the Virgin Mary in the painting “doesn’t look happy enough” about experiencing the joy of motherhood. Governor Ron DeSantis applauded the move.
MTV’s The Exhibit Is Finally Spicing Up
In the penultimate episode, the show’s editors managed to ignite the spark of mindless reality TV.
As a teenager I dreamed that while my dog walked beside me, his shadow ran across the neighborhood on its own. I was a big Jack London fan, so I woke up thinking that the shadow must have been my dog’s wolf side, wanting to break free from domestication.
Comments are closed.