Charlotte Dumas

Washington, DC

Charlotte Dumas: Babe, Arlington National Cemetary, Arlington, Virginia (2012): Chromogenic (colour coupler) print. Images courtesy the artist and Julie Saul Gallery, New York and Galerie Paul Andriesse, Amsterdam. © Charlotte Dumas.Charlotte Dumas: Babe, Arlington National Cemetary, Arlington, Virginia (2012): Chromogenic (colour coupler) print. Images courtesy the artist and Julie Saul Gallery, New York and Galerie Paul Andriesse, Amsterdam. © Charlotte Dumas.

By Bill Clarke

Charlotte Dumas
Corcoran Gallery of Art
To October 28, 2012

Over the last ten years, Dutch photographer Charlotte Dumas, who is now in her mid-30s, has been making photographs of animals that don't fall into the trap of being overly sentimental. "Cute" photographs of animals are ubiquitous – it seems that at least ten photographs of people's pets lolling about appear in my Facebook feed daily – and focusing a camera on an animal feels like an easy way to gain attention. Dumas' photographs, however, are too often fraught with tragic histories to be mistaken for a snapshot of a pet.

Dumas isn't interested in animals that lead pampered lives. Rather, she turns her camera towards the strays, or those animals that have "professions" or fulfill social functions. Through her photographs, Dumas reflects the state of humanity through our relationships with these sorts of animals. For example, the photographer once travelled to nine states across the U.S. to create a suite of 15 portraits of the 9/11 rescue dogs that were still alive. In this work, the aged dogs, photographed a decade after the attacks, become emblems for humanity's capacity for moving on from the events of that day.

Heart Shaped Hole (2008): Chromogenic print, 11-3/4 x 15/-3/4 inches. © Charlotte Dumas.Heart Shaped Hole (2008): Chromogenic print, 11-3/4 x 15/-3/4 inches. © Charlotte Dumas.In her latest work, commissioned for this first solo museum exhibition in North America, Dumas returns to the world of working horses, which were the subject of her first major project in 2002 when she created portraits of Rotterdam's police horses. Lining the walls of the one of the gallery's round rooms are a suite of images picturing the army horses stabled at the Arlington National Cemetery, their job to transport the bodies of dead soldiers to their final resting places during military funerals. Enveloping the horses in light similar to that found in 17th Century Dutch paintings, Dumas captures the animals at the end of their work days, most laying in their stalls, their noble heads lowered and their eyelids heavy with sleep. Several of the horses are white, making angelic connotations hard to miss. The horses touchingly embody a country wearied by prolonged conflict.

The exhibition, titled Anima, also includes work from three earlier series picturing stray dogs on the streets of Palermo, tethered racehorses in their stables, and wolves living in nature reserves in Norway and Sweden. Of these, the dogs are the most affecting, especially the photo Heart Shaped Hole (2008), which gives the series its title. In it, a brown mongrel sits in a brown paper box, a punched-out handle on the side resembling the shape of the title. Looking over its shoulder, the dog's eyes are wary yet beseeching. We wish to pick up the box and take the dog home but, Dumas seems to ask, would we feel the same way about a human being in similar circumstances?