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Have you spotted our exciting new Dogs of Hestercombe exhibition in the Long Gallery, which celebrates Hestercombe's patrons with paws? We love to welcome visitors and their dogs for walks in the garden and a spot of canine ice cream in the Stables Cafe.
Earlier this year, volunteer and photographer Daniel McCarthy captured these charming photos of visitors and their dogs, discovering some heart-warming tales along the way. We caught up with Dan to find out more...
The idea behind the project grew from encounters with dogs and their owners whilst I was walking in the gardens at Hestercombe. I love dogs but don’t have one of my own, so I was always happy to be allowed to say hello to them.
Over time I realised that I would find myself looking forward to these chance meetings - the opportunity to stroke a friendly dog and to chat briefly to the owner about the dog, the weather and how nice it was to be out and about in Hestercombe.
I became aware that among the dogs and owners I met there were few similarities. I met people of all ages and dogs of all sizes. There were, however, two notable constants – everybody was invariably friendly, and they had all chosen to come to Hestercombe for their walk.
I decided that I wanted to document some of these encounters to capture a snapshot of the huge variety of dogs and owners unified by their decision to visit Hestercombe.
That's a really difficult one to answer. I photographed some really lovely people with amazing stories to tell, and some spectacular dogs. But, if I had to pick one photograph that summed up for me what makes the Dogs of Hestercombe project special, it would be the one of Barney the eight-year-old sprocker.
I first saw Barney by the Mill Pond with his owner Shelley. What I didn't realise at first glance was that Barney, despite behaving like a totally normal dog, was completely blind. Shelley explained that his sight had been in decline for a long time, but he became totally blind 18 months ago. Barney didn't seem too bothered though - he's been walking around Hestercombe all his life, and seemed to know exactly where he was just by sniffing the surroundings.
Barney's story spoke of the resilience of dogs, the love of his owner and how Hestercombe is special for both of them. The photo captured Barney with his nose in the air and that seemed to say everything about how he "sees" the world now.
I'm not sure dogs pose! Most of the time it was just a question of being ready to take a photo when the opportunity presented itself. I found that most dogs would need a minute or two to check out the small studio before you could ask them to sit for a photo. They'd also get bored of sitting very quickly and want to get back outdoors. Being prepared and having the camera ready was key.
Dog treats helped a lot, but the squeaky toy I used to attract dogs' attention was abandoned after a group of three spaniels decided that it was much more interesting than sitting for a portrait… and demolished it!
Hestercombe was where the idea for this exhibition first took shape and Tim Martin, Hestercombe's Art Director, was tremendously supportive, not least by making the Long Gallery available for me to use as an impromptu studio.
But Hestercombe was much more than just a convenient location. For me, it was the meeting point for all the ideas behind the project and the people and dogs who made the project real. Likewise I think that the portraits ended up being more than just random photographs of dogs and owners. I hope I managed to show that the people and dogs who were photographed are actually part of a very special Hestercombe community.
I'm hoping to continue to take photographs of dogs! I've learned a huge amount over the time I've been working on the Dogs of Hestercombe exhibition. I want to keep documenting the special relationships people have with their dogs and vice versa.
Wander down to the Long Gallery, just past the Mill Pond and Apple Loft, to see the Dogs of Hestercombe exhibition yourself. The exhibition is open from 2nd – 28th October 2018. Find out more about our othergallery exhibitions here.
Fancy joining in with the four-legged fun? Tag us in your dog-walking photos at Hestercombe on social media. You never know, you might even become ourInstagram #dogoftheweek!