Karan Vaid‘s ongoing project Best in Show captures Indian dog culture in two parts. Part 1 is a quirky look at the modern Indian dog shows: doting owners, tear-jerking moments and mysterious paraphernalia. From Patiala to Palakkad, Karan photographs what would be best described as a dog mela; brooches and spike collars, bronze plated participation medals, grooming aids and an awful lot of people talking to dogs. Part 2 is a deeply personal affair, where the photographer opens out family albums. Pictures of family, dogs past, friends and even some where you can make out a young Karan. In the India of 80s and 90s you can see the essence of the work; the bond between man and animal. A little reminiscing of childhood never goes amiss…
Blindboys : Karan you grew up in a family with a passion for dogs. Dog Shows are pretty much a family affair: Is Best in Show a way for you to explore memories from your childhood? And how did you reach this point, embodied by Best in Show 1 & 2?
Karan Vaid: When I was a child, my parents would, every winter, take long road trips to different parts of North India to attend and take part in dog shows and I would go with them. We didn’t have a heater in the car then but I was always quite warm sitting in the back, wedged between two dogs. They would rarely if ever win anything and of course there was no money to be made from this back then… they were just passionate about dogs. I couldn’t quite understand why they spent hours driving on the road, sometimes for a couple of days, only to return empty handed. As I grew older, I stopped going to these dog shows and those childhood winters faded into memory…
I guess, I started this project with the aim to reconcile those memories with what was happening today at dog shows.
Best in Show – Part 1
Blindboys: “Best in Show” is an on-going project; can you tell us a little about your process in putting together such a project?
Karan Vaid: I have been shooting Best In Show for over a year now. The dog show season takes place between August and March, and most of the work from part 1 is from last season (2013-2014). A great deal of time went into research, especially the history of dog shows in India. I wasn’t interested in a purely documentary approach and used a photographic language that I felt accurately reflected my own visceral feelings towards this subject. At the moment, I don’t know how well the two parts of the project come together (if at all) but I am not really concerned about that at the moment… I am just exited and quite content to be shooting the present season at the moment.
Blindboys: The pictures show dog shows in India as eccentric passionate affairs. What do you think fascinates India with these events? Can you share some out-there encounters/stories from your travels ?
Karan Vaid: The average person may consider a dog show to be a glorified beauty pageant for dogs and on the whole a quirky and rather superfluous affair.
In fact most dog shows in India look, sound and smell the same; A school’s cricket field, brightly colored tenting, two show rings, a cordoned off VIP section, sponsor signage’s, cars and RV’s with running air-conditioning for the dogs, men and women sporting bush hats and blazers, dog product and food stalls and of course many exotic dog breeds. It can be a great place to spend a Sunday afternoon.
Dig a little deeper and it becomes fairly evident that, like most sub-cultures, dog shows in India have a rich and long history; the first show was held in India in 1896 and flourished under the patronage of the British colonial elite (including Lords Minto and Irwin) and subsequently the Indian Aristocracy (The Maharajas of Jind and Patiala) which led to the modern dog shows in India under the Kennel Club of India.
For participants today, it’s a highly competitive game with their reputation and aspirations on the line. There is usually no prize money to be had but breeding a placed dog can lead to big financial returns and many people aspire to be at the top of the dog show world in India.
Blindboys: Part 2 deals with family album pictures of your parents at various shows: what prompted you put these images together ? How has the subculture evolved from then to now?
Karan Vaid: Vernacular photography has always appealed to me and the project began when I scanned a box full of old family snapshots, in an effort to preserve them. After making a small edit from just the Dog show photographs, I knew I had something special and meaningful [to me] and I couldn’t resist going out and seeing what had become of dog shows in India.
The “dog game” (as it has come to be called) in India has turned into quite the elaborate affair. There are exotic and expensive dogs breeds flown in from all over the world just for the show season or for a particularly important show. In addition to dogs, foreign professional handlers also fly in during the season and offer their services to the various Indian kennels. Great sums of money are at stakes and as a result there are more breeders today then anytime before. Competition is fierce and passionate.
Best of Show – Part 2 (see the rest here)
Blindboys: What plans do you have for the project going forward?
Karan Vaid: There is plenty of work to be done and I am busy shooting the ongoing season (2014-2015). Figuring out how to finance this project is priority at the moment as shows take place in all parts of India and getting to them isn’t always easy as this project is completely self-funded