By Bianca Smit
Emma O’Brien, a professional photographer from Johannesburg, talked about the “Creative magic of black dogs” at a recent TEDx conference in Pretoria. I was fascinated by the subject because how do you bring creativity and a black dog together?
She elaborated on the subject by saying that a term which is commonly used at animal shelters one day triggered a whole new creative process in her. The term was “black dog syndrome.” Basically, it refers to the fact that black dogs are not as easily adopted as dogs of other colours. Black dogs often miss out simply because of the colour of their fur, but why does it happen?
Several reasons are being given for it, but in general it comes down to the following:
- Black dogs are regarded as more aggressive, although that is not the case.
- Black dog hair shows up more on furniture.
- Black dogs do not photograph well. Shelters have a real problem to get a good picture of those dogs so someone would notice them. O’Brien also mentioned that in the times we are living in it is apparently important that one’s dog should look great on Instagram.
O’Brien mentioned that she deeply loves animals and she could not understand why such a thing could happen. She then decided to take pictures of black dogs to show that they can look as good as any other dog in a picture. She also used a black background for these dogs to portray their emotions rather than their colour. Each picture was as stunning and remarkable as any picture of any other dog – but how could she convey her message to create the necessary awareness for this project?
It is at this stage that one realises that creativity does not always lie where we expect to find it. She was concerned that those photos did not reach the right target audience and that they were not creating the intended awareness. She was passionate about those animals and she wanted to do something even if she could rescue just one dog from his situation.
That is when her creativity kicked in in a different way. She is a photographer, not a writer but she took the brave decision to write a story to accompany each photo. Her stories were very similar to the stories one would find on an online dating site, but for animals.
This one she specifically wrote for a black pug:
“Nancy. Slightly needy, snorer of note. Sheds so much that her mom now dresses like Batman.”
She took a chance with a unique idea, not sure whether or not it would work, but it was a success and it made a difference in her profession and also for those dogs.
This awareness programme became an overnight success and more and more people started to post pictures of their adopted black dogs on her website. The stereotyping that a black dog does not photograph well was broken because one person decided to take a leap and to trust the idea that had stirred in her.
Sometimes creativity comes from the strangest places. So, find your black dog within yourself.
To find out more about the specific project go to: