Crufts Dog Show- Extraordinary Dogs, Ordinary People

Loving photographer Martin Usborne’s series on dog shows. Here is more about the project in the artists own words.
“Crufts, the world’s biggest dog show that takes place in Birmingham each year, was under intense scrutiny a few years ago when a secret TV documentary argued that dog inbreeding was essentially unhealthy and cruel. As a dog-lover and a pedigree owner I thought I had better see what it was all about.

Much to my surprise (and slight disappointment) Crufts is decidedly pleasant. I half expected to capture malicious owners that looked fully like their pets. But the impression is of a prosaic middle-England gathering of weekend enthusiasts. The dog owners are friendly and, dare I say it, normal. Although they trim their dogs’ heads into perfect spheres and their tails into cascades of pure silk they couldn’t be more down to earth. They remind me of Sunday gardeners who trim their hedges into the shape of leaping dolphins and then go inside to watch Antiques Roadshow on TV. The vast halls, despite being full of thousands of different breeds are strangely quiet and more surprising than this – almost turd-free. The merchandising stalls, which sit around the perimeter of the space and sell marginally tasteless doggy-tat (buy two bottles of ‘Urine-off’ and receive a free 100% fish-based dog chew) are harmless enough. And amongst this the dogs themselves seem to be willing,  as if they too have read the convention guide and know they must wait their turn to appear on the green carpet.

But in a way Crufts is not about dogs at all, it’s about us, the humans. To see Sue from Southend prancing around the green carpet with her shapely Shih Tzu is an odd thing. For what is on show is our obsession with classification, managing and controlling.  For centuries now we have selected and bred and trimmed and perfected these dogs whilst all along the animals themselves seem vaguely disinterested. Under the layers of trimmed and blow-dried hair I bet that Sheepdog just wants to chew a stick. At Crufts they call him “Prancing Archibald goes Forth @ le gay Paris ” but if you ask what they call him at home its … “Keith”.

There is little doubt that this pursuit of perfection has led to various inbred conditions and ailments particular to pedigrees. And while I did see the occasional dog burdened by excessive haircurlers, inbred folds of skin and weighty eyebrows I didn’t sense any overt maliciousness. What is unusual about Crufts is just how normal the people are. If the dogs suffer unnecessarily then that is very sad and wrong. But on the surface at least I saw care – even if was professed through some deeply strange haircuts.”


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