Art&Culture
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EL CAZADOR (THE HUNTER)

As the Spanish hunting season ends, galgos and podencos are dumped or worse, killed. Photographer Barbara van Zijll de Jong captures the pride, power and grandeur of these breeds.

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EL CAZADOR (THE HUNTER)

As a photographer, one of my specialties is taking pictures of animals, particularly dogs. I love to work with them for their honesty and sincerity. They are exactly who they are without pretending to be otherwise. I consider it my job to capture and visualise the appearance of the dog, as well as its character.

I once took on an assignment for a lady who owned two Spanish hunting dogs, or podencos. I’d never heard of the breed before, but I was caught by their graciousness, and their alien yet photogenic appearance. The lady told me she adopted the dogs and rescued them from death, because a lot of podencos are killed at the end of hunting season.

Triggered by her story, I went online and discovered how special the podencos are, and how ancient and tragic their history is. I also found another breed, the galgos, to have a similar story. At that moment, I knew I would make it my mission to show people how beautiful and fantastic these dogs are, and how much they deserve to be respected and treated well. That story became El Cazador, Spanish for ‘the hunter’.

Podencos are descendants of the Tesem, a semi-wild prairie dog from Egypt. Around 800-900 BC, the Phoenicians were the main traders around the Mediterranean Sea. It is said that because of them the dogs were spread out over several countries such as Spain and Portugal. As these locations were quite isolated, the breed stayed pure for a long time. Galgos are a breed of greyhound brought to Spain around 600 BC by the Celts from northern Europe. Today, both the podencos and galgos are used for hunting due to their enormous endurance, their maneuverability, and because they hunt with both smell and sight. Their instinct for hunting is congenital; neither breeds need to learn what their owner wants from them, nor how they have to do it. Also, they will bring their prey to an owner alive.

These remarkable dogs became showpieces for the nobility for centuries. Only the upper classes were rich enough to hunt for sport, so the dogs were a point of pride. Besides hunting, the breeds were also used in running races. This noble association meant the podencos and galgos were once highly respected, but everything changed with the introduction of English greyhounds, which were faster on flat surfaces and straight distances. Hunting changed, too. No longer was it a noble domain. In their new role, galgos and podencos became disposable products. Now, when a hunting season ends, the dogs who don’t perform well, or are too old, are destroyed and dumped in mass graves.

My pictures are not meant to openly criticise how people treat their dogs, but show the majesty of these natural born hunters—their pride, their grandeur, and their long historic background. That’s the reason I portrayed them in an almost 17th-century way, which signifies the Spanish golden age. I hope that because of my positive approach people realise that both galgos and podencos deserve a better fate.


All dogs in the photo-essay are rescued.
barbaravanzijlldejong.nl

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