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Friday, July 12, 2013

Theron Humphrey on Maddie on Things

Posted by on 07.12.13 at 01:21 PM

maddie_cover.jpg
  • Chronicle Books
The title Maddie on Things sounds like a philosophical inquiry, sort of like Lucretius's On the Nature of Things. But actually Maddie is a 45-pound coonhound with a preternaturally developed sense of balance, and the book is a collection of photos of Maddie, well, balancing on things: posts, fences, the tops of doors, a giant watermelon, a basketball hoop, the axle of a John Deere tractor, shelves (both on walls and inside a refrigerator). It is one of the most charming things you will see for at least the next year.

The book's very existence is somewhat serendipitous. Maddie's human, Theron Humphrey, is a photographer who decided to take a year off from his job and travel the country meeting people and taking their pictures. (In the process, he became one of National Geographic's Travelers of the Year.) Before he set out, he decided he needed a road trip companion and adopted Maddie. A few days after they began their life together, he discovered her special talent.

"My buddy and I went out for coffee," he recalls, "and when we got back, instead of lying on the couch, she was standing on the back of the couch with her head down."

They started experimenting. Could Maddie stand on four soup cans, one paw on each can? She could!

The series that developed was a sort of collaboration. "It's a response to her natural talents and desires," says Humphrey. "She likes to climb trees and get onto things."

Maddie on a refrigerator
  • Theron Humphrey
  • Maddie on a refrigerator

There was also some training involved, and lots of dog treats. Most of the shoots were quick. Humphrey would deal with the location and the light, and then Maddie would pose (sometimes with a boost from Humphrey) and stay. Fifteen seconds later, it would be all over. Fifteen seconds can feel like a long time, though. Perhaps most impressive—at least to anyone who has ever spent time with a dog—is the photo where Maddie holds a large dog-shaped cookie in her mouth.

All the photos were taken with an iPhone 4 camera using Instagram, which was then relatively new. Humphrey posted the photos to his website every day. He admits rather sheepishly that he was partial to the Valencia filter. "At the time, it just felt right. It's like looking at old photos and wondering, did I really dress that way?"

Maddie and Humphrey
  • Theron Humphrey
  • Maddie and Humphrey
Now Humphrey and Maddie are back on the road, combining a book tour with another photo project. Though Maddie still likes to stand on things ("It's in her DNA," says Humphrey), this isn't the focus of their current crop of pictures.

"I'm proud of the book," Humphrey says. "It's an awesome deal, but the images have changed now. The new project doesn't have a simple hook like 'Dog on Things.' One of my favorite new images is one of Maddie under a side table in a house where we were staying. We were inspired by the objects in the house and the light."

Theron Humphrey and Maddie will be presenting Maddie on Things on Wed. 7/17 at 7 PM at the Book Cellar (4736-38 N. Lincoln) and Thurs. 7/18 at 6 PM at Barnes & Noble DePaul Center (1 E. Jackson).

Aimee Levitt writes about books every Friday.

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