Elias Weiss Friedman has devoted himself to photographing everyday New Yorkers. His subjects are diverse, come in all shapes and sizes, and they also happen to be dogs.
In a city that is estimated to have 600,000 dogs, it’s only fitting that Elias developed The Dogist, a photo-documentary series capturing New York’s four-legged friends. His work highlights the canines that bring so much character to the city, yet rarely get the recognition they deserve. As a photographer, blogger, and “dog humanitarian,” Elias is committed to introducing the Big Apple’s dogs to the world.
We recently caught up with Elias to find out how The Dogist came to be, and to find out what it takes for a pup to grab his attention.
A scene from “Barking at Dogs”
What inspired you to start The Dogist?
Elias: I started doing this a year and a half ago. I grew up doing photography with a darkroom in the house and it’s always been a hobby that I was good at, but I never thought that I would pursue it professionally. I worked in brand strategy for a few years and was part of the layoffs, and then I got involved in the startup world with buddies and we sold the company. After that, I started a show called “Barking at Dogs,” where we interviewed people with dogs about world news and topical issues, kind of a web comedy series. And that is sort of how I transitioned into the dog world and then I started taking dog portraits. I was inspired by what Scott Schuman of The Sartorialist did for street fashion.
I saw a story about dogs that wasn’t being told. I said once in an interview, “Every dog deserves recognition.” Dogs are a remarkable part of our culture and no one is really telling their story in a consistent, beautiful, thoughtful, personifying way.
Lexi, mix (1 y/o), NY Pet Fashion Show, New York, NY “People look at her and think she’s disabled. She can do all of the things other dogs do. We consider her ‘specially abled’.” (L); Lola, Yorkshire Terrier (9 y/o), Madison Square Park, New York, NY (R)
What was the response when you began posting photos?
Elias: I knew that no one was doing what I was doing in a city like New York. Of course everyone loves dog pictures so I had a positive response. The question was how could I continue to do it and make a living. That’s really the challenge. With blogs like Humans of New York sort of paving the way and setting precedent, that made it feasible.
You photograph dogs throughout the city, how do you decide where to go?
Elias: I live in the East Village so I like to shoot downtown. I’ll pick a spot and go there. I’ve been shooting New York for a long time so it’s interesting when I travel—I’m shooting all day, every day. But in the city I’m shooting every other day and I’m only out for an hour or two. I do a lot of activities, but I always have my camera with me.
What does a dog need to have to catch your eye? Is there a certain “it” factor?
Elias: I’m definitely looking for a dog that stands out. Oftentimes it’s a cool breed with a funny haircut, or a dog that is an unusual mix. There are a lot of white fluffy dogs and brown dogs and there are some of them you just want to know more about—those are the ones that I’m attracted to. I remember I would walk down the street and people would just look at these dogs as they passed by and talk amongst their friends about them. I wanted to add a little more to the story.
When you approach an owner, are they excited that you express interest?
Elias: It’s sort of a novel thing—I think because I have a camera, I have kneepads on the inside of my pants, I have a squeak toy, and I’m down on the ground making all kinds of weird noises. Owners are a little bit bewildered, as is the dog, by what is happening. But then I give them the card with the website and social media handle, and more often than not, people know who I am now. I don’t usually get into asking people, “Tell me something funny or remarkable about your dog.” It will just come out naturally. They just say, “It’s incredible what he does.” And then we will talk some more about it.
Mingus, Labradoodle (1 y/o), Warby Barker launch party, New York, NY “Like the jazz player, Charles Mingus.” (L) ; Butler Blue III aka “Trip”, English Bulldog (3 y/o), Madison Square Garden – Big East Tournament, New York, N (R)
Why are New Yorkers so in love with dogs? A lot of people treat them like their children—if not better!
Elias: It’s a big city. It’s easy to feel lonely. A dog is sort of the antidote. What you look forward to coming home to every day. Dogs love unconditionally. It’s a culture too. You walk your dog, take them to the park, and you talk to all these people and it ends up being very social.
Do you see correlations between neighborhoods and breeds?
Elias: Uptown, in and around Central Park, they’re bigger breeds. Downtown it’s mixed up and there are a lot of big and small dogs because the apartments vary in size. In Brooklyn you have more mixes because there are a lot of rescue dogs, hound mixes, and pit mixes. There are interesting correlations, but there are many exceptions.
Have you encountered dogs and owners who look like each other?
Elias: There are sometimes breed resemblances. Like the color of the coat matches the person’s hair color.
You’ve expanded to other cities. Where have you been recently?
Elias: I was just in Montana, Seattle and then Anchorage shooting the Iditarod. I’m planning a lot more travel soon. I have a book coming out this fall so I’m shooting a number of secret special features for the book.
You launched an initiative called Give a Dog a Bone. Can you share a bit about this project?
Elias: With Give a Dog a Bone I visit shelters and photograph adoptable dogs to be featured on the site. From there people from my audience will sponsor the dogs. It gives these dogs more exposure than they would otherwise have and helps tell an important piece of the story.
What does sharing New York’s dogs mean to you?
Elias: The reason I do it personally is because I miss having a dog. I have dogstalgia. I grew up with Labs and when it makes sense to have my own pack, I will. I like walking around, I have an adventurous spirit and I like talking to people. Dog people are easy to talk to. I just have a lot of fun with it. It’s grown into something bigger than that and it will continue to do that!
+ The Dogist
[This interview has been edited]
All images courtesy of The Dogist
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