Words + Photos by Antonio Hernandez.
Bego Antón captures relationships that you many never existed. In her latest project “Everybody Loves to ChaChaCha,” the Spanish photographer documented the experiences of people who danced with their dogs, both competitively and for leisure. What started as a research project for another photography project, graduated into learning about the culture of this unique human-canine dancing exhibitions, which can be found in pockets all across the United States. Thanks to the support of International Studio & Curatorial Program (ISCP) and Spain Arts and Culture, she criss-crossed the U.S., capturing personal glimpses into the lives of the people and dogs, culminating into a series of portraits and a short film.
Bego Antón discusses the process of creating the photo project, the challenges of documenting the relationship between humans and dogs, and why she loves to explore relationships on the fringes of society.
Q: Why was it important to travel and meet with so many of these teams one-on-one?
BEGO: For me it was really important to meet these teams in their homes. The homes gave me an insight to their personalities as well. They all have small figurines and all kind of different things in the shape of dogs, so they love dogs like crazy. I spent maybe one day with each team I photographed. [Sometimes] I did two in the same day, depending on how far they lived from each other.
“The homes gave me an insight to their personalities as well. They all have small figurines and all kind of different things in the shape of dogs, so they love dogs like crazy”
Q: How did you find out about the sport?
BEGO: I was going to do a residency at ICP in New York thanks to Spain Arts and Culture. I was doing some research because I wanted to work on the contradictory relationship with animals: how some of them we love, some of them we eat. Somehow I ended up on YouTube watching a video of Carolyn Scott and Rookie dancing to one of the songs from the movie Grease.
Q: What is your own relationship to animals?
I’m a cat person, actually. I never had a dog in my family; we only had fish and turtles. I don’t know why I’m interested in the relationship we have with animals, and I’m very interested in animals, visually.
Q: Do you think your work advocates for animals in the same way as animal rights organizations?
BEGO: Maybe some people think it’s controversial. I don’t think they’re abusing animals or anything like that at all. I’ve seen how they treat them, and they treat them with incredible care. They humanize the animals. They are dancing with them, but that’s not absolutely true. They are not making the dog dance as a human.
“They take into consideration the own movements and body of the dogs. If they see that something is going to hurt him, they won’t do it”
They take into consideration the own movements and body of the dogs. If they see that something is going to hurt him, they won’t do it. If you have a dog, you really need to be active with the dog. It’s much worse if you leave your dog all day and never take him for a walk or whatever. These dogs are in constant activity and are happy.
You can’t make a dog do something he doesn’t want to for so long. The main thing here is that they get so close to their dogs, they are members of the family. You don’t treat bad any member of your family.
Q: In most of the photos, the humans are mostly older women. Did you see any men or younger people involved?
BEGO: The youngest girl I met was 13-years-old. It’s true that it’s a sport that is practiced by older women. I think it can be done by anyone. Most of the people that I met were women, but this doesn’t mean that men are not dancing. I didn’t have the chance to meet them, but they are men. This 13-year-old wanted to dance because her mom was dancing as well. Her mom must be my age – around 30 or 32. The oldest one that I met was 86, so you have a [big range].
Q: When you visited the teams, did you have a script you followed for the interviews?
BEGO: I didn’t really follow the same way each time, it depended on the person. I did have a methodology with them. I first went to the homes and just talked with them a lot. I would record the conversation, because I was asking them questions for the documentary: How did you feel about your dogs? Can you put into words the way you feel for them? These kind of weird and difficult questions.
“I’m very slow taking pictures. For me, photography isn’t about the last picture, but the entire experience.”
Then there more technical questions: What do you think about freestyle? Do you compete? Also on costumes, music and other kinds of questions like that. That also got us to get to know each other better. After that, I recorded the choreography with the music and the costumes they were wearing. After that, and after spending a lot of time together, I then take the picture. For me, it’s really important to spend time with them and get to know them a bit better. That’s the way I work. I’m very slow taking pictures. For me, photography isn’t about the last picture, but the entire experience.
“With people, you can be very clear and tell them what you want – with dogs, it’s impossible!”
Q: Did you have any challenges photographing the people with the dogs?
BEGO: It’s not easy. With people, you can be very clear and tell them what you want – with dogs, it’s impossible! So you have some tricks, like saying cake, and then they will turn around and look at you. We just had to be patient. For this project, I didn’t stage that much. Of course I told them where I wanted the picture to be, but I let them do whatever they wanted to do. It’s challenging because you can’t control it, but that’s a beautiful thing as well.
“It’s challenging because you can’t control it, but that’s a beautiful thing as well”
Q: What other projects did you work on that are related to this at all?
BEGO: Before this series, I did another one about the Ugliest Dog in the World, whose name is Mugly and lives in the UK (2012). I didn’t mean to work on dogs, I didn’t do it on purpose. I don’t know why, it just happened. If they were dancing with tigers, I would have done the project with the tigers, instead of the dogs. My work usually depicts human behavior in the way we relate with animals, and I work on the contradictions with animals and nature.
At the same time, I also work with small groups who seem weird to the rest of the society because they are doing something that are not common – for example, this [project]. Also, people who can see UFOs and people in Iceland who can talk and see elves. I always have these two big topics, and in this case both of them came together. We have the animals on one side, and we had a small team coming together doing something that is weird, but I hope is going to get more and more common.
^ Bego Antón with friends and staff of Spain Arts & Culture.
Q: Where will you be in 5 days, 5 months and 5 years?
BEGO: In five days, I’ll be in Barcelona, because I’m going back home. In five months – that’s very much in the future because I’m thinking of a new project. In five years, I’m going to be back in my home country in Bilbo, Spain.
Thanks Bego for the interview! If you’re in the D.C. area, be sure to check out “Everybody Loves to ChaChaCha” during FotoWeek DC!