The term “death row” is an ominous one, and for many of us conjures up images of psychopaths in electric chairs, beads of sweat dripping from cold steel helmets. Standard Hollywood stuff. Rarely though do we think of the non-human angle, the dogs and cats at the local pound, with no-one to save them from their fate and no Susan Sarandon-type on hand to deliver them their final rites.
In the prison system, death row refers to the inmates whose lives are on the clock, inmates who are waiting to die. The same can be said in animal shelters, where the lives of canine and feline inmates with no homes and no humans have an expiration date, and it’s usually only a week or two.
Enter Niall Lester, the angel of mercy from South-East London, who began volunteering at a local RSPCA when he was 13 and who has been rescuing pets and pups ever since. Niall takes the dogs out of danger and into his care by housing them in his kennels or even his own home if the kennels are full, and eventually finding them places to live.
Animal lover and photographer Georgie Mason met Niall through a close family friend when shooting him for a portrait project several years ago, and, moved by his plight, she contacted him again and made him the subject of her final major at The University for the Creative Arts in Surrey, UK.
The documentary project Death Row features Niall with several of the rescued horde he has saved from death row or the inevitability of it (he currently has 16 dogs in residence), back in the locations they were rescued from.
Says Georgie, “I have always been interested in the link between portraiture and location, where the photograph can tell a story about the person depicted based on where the image was taken. I knew I wanted the basis of the story to be the location in which these dogs were rescued by him. I was interested in how all the photographs would tell a different story, with Niall being the consistent figure in each. I was drawn to the sense that the photographs are a reminder and a reflection of the past, for both the dog and for Niall.”
Many of the locations in the series leave little to be desired, and saw the team in all manner of situations. Highlights included shooting in and behind gypsy sites, wrangling a Staffordshire Bull Terrier in a bitter storm, and, in the case of Tyson the Jack Russell cross’ shoot, battling with snow.
“It was the most challenging work I have ever done” says Georgie, “the weather, the locations, the hefty and slow equipment, and lugging this equipment to these strange, often eerie spots. But I think the challenge for all of us definitely added to the impact of the photographs.”
And the impact is immediate, with each dog looking decidedly happier in the arms of their champion, a far cry from the harrowing histories they’ve escaped. Visually stunning, the clarity of each shot not only emphasises their subjects, but emphasises the significance of Niall’s work, and the significant role he has played in transforming the lives of these dead dogs walking.
We are thrilled to introduce Dog-Friendly, a collection of city guides for dog-loving people, created together with our long-time contributor, photographer Winnie Au, and fellow enthusiasts, indie publisher Hoxton Mini Press. Available for purchase here.
August 25, 2021
Have you ever imagined Amy Winehouse or Nick Cave as a Chihuahua, Neil Young as a Vizsla, or PJ Harvey as an Afghan hound? That’s exactly what San Francisco-based artist Michael Gillette has done through his unique illustration project, blending beloved, iconic music legends, both past and present, with their dog counterparts. Pack of Dogs, our first foray into book publishing, is a celebration of pup and pop culture for music and dog lovers alike.
August 25, 2020