WORDS BY João Bento
Almost 100,000 dogs are euthanised every year in Taiwan. The dogs caught on the street are kept in the kennel for twelve days waiting for adoption. If nobody rescues them over that period of time, they are put down. The ones who are seriously ill and suffering are put down immediately. Yun-Fei Tou is the author of Memento Mori, a series of portraits of these Taiwanese stray dogs taken just before being euthanised.
For two years Tou photographed almost 1, 000 dogs. Each time he met a dog, it was for the first and the last time. Tou took 40, 000 images and each dog was photographed many times. Tou didn’t want to impose any force on them to achieve good results, so he played with all of them, gave them treats, hugged them and talked to them. He made sure that they didn’t feel any fear; and accompanied each dog, until the moment that they were finally injected with the blue coloured liquid… “If they are scheduled to be put down, and there is nothing we can do about it at least we can give them love, comfort and dignity” the photographer says.
In the photographs, some of the dogs appear in very dire physical condition. The badly shaped one are partially hairless and have a disturbing human look. Some look like prisoners of Nazi concentration camps or Nazi ghettos. Others look perfectly fine, as if they have just escaped from a nice home
All the dogs were photographed against dark backdrops with the help of studio lights. They look quiet, without moving, as if posing for the camera. They don’t show any exaggerated emotions—not suffering, not fear, or even excitement at the presence of a friendly human—all seem to have a strong inner life. When the photographs are shown at an exhibition the dogs are the same size as a human. It’s impossible to not think of them as being equal to us.
The photographs were captioned with information about how much longer the dogs lived after the photographs were taken, adding an incredible amount of tension to the images.
Tou’s photographs show a great deal of respect and empathy for its subject matter. They offer the viewers the opportunity to enter into the lives of these dogs and feel the dignity and the importance of their existence. We are drawn to feel compassionate about their tragic end.