Art & Photography

The Silence of Dogs in Cars: Martin Usborne

Photographer Martin Usborne talks us through his new exhibition at the Little Black Gallery

We’re known for being a nation of dog lovers: we hang paintings of them playing billiards on our walls, and fill our Instagram feeds with snapshots of them sleeping, eating, playing catch (and the various degrees between these actions). We revel in their personalities, learning their likes, talking to them (and sometimes talking back for them). We treat them like they are our best friend, and they reward us with affection, wet kisses and wagging tails that brighten our day.

“I’d seen the car parked near my studio and left a note on the windscreen asking if I could borrow it…”

Martin Usborne’s new exhibition at London’s Little Black Gallery takes this affection for canines to a new level: over a period of three years, the artist took 40 photographs of dogs in cars, exploring the loneliness (and the humour) of the dog waiting for his owner to return, life held in the suspense and uncertainty of whether they’ll ever come back.

Martin talked us through five of his favourite images from the exhibition, opening 19 March at The Little Black Gallery…


“I’d seen a compelling image by Gregory Crewdson, the well known American photographer, and I really liked the idea of a lonesome dog waiting for his owner at the back of a garage. I wanted to draw upon Crewdson’s sense of lighting and mood to create this idea of the dog waiting for his owner (who never comes.) I built the set outside the back of an old building with a budget of £30 and 3 hours time to shoot. The car, I borrowed from a wonderful local hire company and the dog from a neighbour. The shot took almost three hours to get right, and the dog was fed fresh chicken most of the way through out.”


“I love Weimaraners – their faces are so expressive and sculptural. This shot was taken in London as the sun was falling: the spot of light in the background was from my own car, parked in the distance. There is no way of creating this sort of expression, it either happens or it doesn’t, and it’s a question of seizing it when it does. That is why a large number of images in this series were taken on a digital camera – it allows for a rapid response to changing mood, light and expression. For me, this image of Hector seems to capture a sense of anxiety at being alone.”


“Although much of this series is about dark feelings of longing and anxiety, there is room for humour too. Art photography has a tendency to become overly heavy. Milo was deliberately placed into an overly small car and facing the wrong way to make for a stark and hopefully amusing contrast. I like to think this image also says something about the anxieties we often have – sometimes ridiculous, often unnecessary and always in need of a bit of space.”


“This photograph of Prospero was taken during the day but with heavy lighting and a lot of water. I wanted to play on the idea of the ‘black dog of depression’ and for some reason I loved the idea of rain semi-obscuring his view. I’m interested in glass as a metaphor, as a barrier that stops us reaching out and touching, and the water gave a nuance to this. Prospero the black dog, in the black car with the black background… It was always going to look dramatic. However, I was actually holding a plastic ball above the camera at the time. Dogs will be dogs…”


“This shot was one of the final images I took for the series. I’d seen the car parked near my studio and left a note on the windscreen asking if I could borrow it for a shoot with a dog. People have been amazingly generous with their cars, dogs and time. The owner wrote back and explained she had a dog. As soon as I saw the photo of Maus, I knew it would be a fantastic image. Short haired dogs capture the light very well, and Maus is a blue tinged whippet. I found the location just outside the olympic stadium, and shot it a few weeks before the opening ceremony. The stretch of the dog’s neck and the shape of the window work well together – it’s one of the key images in the series.’

The Silence of Dogs in Cars runs from 19 March until 27 April at The Little Black Gallery