Stuck in Time


"When a man sits with a pretty girl for an hour, it seems like a minute. But let him sit on a hot stove for a minute and it's longer than any hour. That's relativity,” wrote Albert Einstein.

Although a bad experience seems eternal, consciousness of time’s relativity lets us anticipate relief. But do animals have the same ability to look forward, the same knowledge that “everything will be alright”? Dogs are simply unable to perceive the passage of time, says animal psychologist William Roberts. They are “stuck in time”, consumed by the most fleeting pain or pleasure.

“Stuck” is the feeling of Mute Faces, a project by English photographer Martin Usborne. His series of dogs-left-in-cars evokes the fear of a small child left for 5 minutes in a double-parked car during a quick run to the supermarket.

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“It is worth looking into the dark places inside us,” reflects the photographer, “Mute Faces is really intended to be a little dreamlike, unreal so as to evoke a particular feeling of longing and loneliness.”

The enigmatic lighting makes a series of disturbing and cinematically beautiful images. But, as Usborne notes, the project’s effect is paradoxical: “Something that made me feel so mute has produced a project that is so loud”, and the sadness of the scenes often makes onlookers smile in sympathy. Usborne explains the effect as a consequence of the project’s “ultimately hopeful” nature.

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Happily, the process of shooting was not so sad as the finished product. “It is important to say that the shots were staged. People think they are documentary, but that would be impossible in the UK. Not too many dogs are left in cars,” he adds.

“I had 5 husky dogs in one car and they were going crazy. Even hanging meat outside the window would not stop them. The only way to make them stop and look was to play Sinead O'Connor’s song “Nothing Compares 2 U” at full volume from another car. We were outside a council estate of buildings at 11pm. People thought we were crazy. So did I.”

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Martin Usborne lives and works in London (with his miniature schnauzer, Moose). He trained in architecture, then philosophy, then psychology, then 3D animation before finally settling on photography. Phew. Martin's current work consists of portraits, both human and animal, and he is particularly interested in capturing the relationship between the two, whether directly (when both appear in the frame) or indirectly (as in the case of MUTE: the silence of dogs in cars, where the human's role is implied). He strives to make his work poignant but also a little playful - there is too much unremitting sadness in contemporary art photography. Usborne has published two photography books, the first called ‘I’ve Lived in Hoxton for 81.5 years’ about an old man that has only once left East London, and another, ‘My name is Moose’ about what it is like to be a dog in the recession.

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