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Best in Show review: A photographer goes behind the scenes at the Westminster Dog Show

#x201c;Best in Show#x201d; by Dolly Faibyshev. MUST CREDIT: Chronicle
“Best in Show” by Dolly Faibyshev. MUST CREDIT: Chronicle

One of the things photographer Dolly Faibyshev loves most about her job is the way it grants her entry to special events; it’s been her key to the Orchid Show, a clown convention and the massive celebration of Dolly Parton that is DollyPalooza.

Faibyshev started photographing the Westminster Dog Show on a whim nearly a decade ago after seeing coverage on television, and she’s been going back - as well as to other dog shows - with some frequency in the years since, collecting eye-catching and often comical portraits along the way.

Her book of photos, “Best in Show,” is out this month. To mark the occasion, she chatted about the challenges of getting the perfect shot, her favorite dog breed and some of the strange things she’s witnessed backstage.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: It seems like you bring a very particular perspective. You’re zooming in on paws or brooches or, in one case, a dog’s back side. What are you trying to capture?

A: Honestly, everything. I love texture. I love color. I love thinking about what the dogs and the humans are going through. Like, while they’re there, do the dogs know what’s going on? I can’t help but notice the faraway look in the dogs’ eyes while they’re being groomed. A lot of them are so calm throughout the process, they’ve done this a countless number of times. Some even look like they’re enjoying the process of getting pampered like a human would.

I also love composition, so I’m sort of looking for everything and anything that catches my eye.

Q: It feels like there’s almost a comedic element to some of it. Is that something that defines your work?

A: Yeah, definitely, though not in everything I do. I don’t know that I look for humor, but I find it.

Q: I saw a can of hair spray in one of the photos on your website, which caught my eye. It seems like an obvious thing to have at a dog show, but still funny. Are there other surprising or strange things you’ve seen?

A: I’ve been doing it so long that it’s like it’s all normal to me now. The funny thing is I’ve also been shooting Fashion Week for many years for the New York Times and other publications, and it’s kind of similar, in a way, backstage. There are a lot of strange hair products and powders. There’s corn starch for the white-haired dogs to get their hair more white. The groomers have all kinds of little tricks like wrapping the coat of the longer-haired dogs in sections, I think it’s to keep it clean and from getting tangled. But they also use a lot of the same tools that humans use, like straightening irons, hair spray and hair dryers.

It doesn’t come across in the book, but there are a lot of strange smells - from all of the different products and fur, and they obviously have to take them to the bathroom backstage, too. So it’s a very unique scent.

Q: How does capturing dogs differ from, say, the challenges of Fashion Week or a clown convention?

A: The dogs are very fast. They move around a lot. So getting a good picture of them in motion or trying to get them to look at the camera is difficult. But other than that, these are dogs that are very well behaved, so it’s not too difficult.

Q: Do you have a favorite dog or handler from the years that you’ve been going?

A: I’ve always loved poodles. I just think they’re so funny to photograph. They’re beautiful but humorous at the same time. There’s so much work that goes into making them look so statuesque, and they actually seem very intelligent.

Q: Are you a dog owner?

A: I’m not. I grew up with dogs, and I was a cat owner. I just love animals in general, but they’re a little bit too high maintenance for me to have one.

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