Anyone who has spent a minimum of two minutes with me would know that animals are the light of my life, and the current exhibition at Fotografiska in Manhattan has only added fuel to that fire. Best in Show: Pets in Contemporary Photography is a celebration of our unbreakable bond with our domesticated fuzzy, feathery, and scaly friends that perforates humanity’s delineation from the natural world. Both irrational love and endless humor, the hallmarks of life with pets, are rife throughout the exhibition on view at the museum through January.
The included works encapsulated a wide variety of heartwarming perspectives toward pet ownership — if one could even call it that, considering how well our little buddies have us trained, too. Best in Show highlights 25 artists from dog-lover William Wegman and his delightful Weimaraners to Thai photographer Visarute Angkatavanich, known for his exceptional fish photography, showcasing the myriad domesticated animals we choose for company and care.
Angkatavanich’s blown-up betta fish photos afford these gorgeous specimens the dignity they deserve in light of their reputation as a disposable starter pet that’s so frequently neglected and mistreated. Against a stark white commercial background, the betta fish’s scales shimmer and their fins billow and ripple in the water as if they’re flamenco dancers, highlighting their under-appreciated glowing beauty.
On the other hand, Leila Jeffreys’s High Society (2019) series capturing large-scale, sophisticated family portraits of parakeets elevates their pint-sized sweetness by modeling anthropomorphized relationships between them.
Meanwhile, Elliott Erwitt’s black-and-white documentarian photos from the 1950s to 2000 expose how we’ve always been a bit gaga over our pups. From a ribbed sweater for the tiniest of cockeyed, bow-legged chihuahuas to a small-but-mighty Jack Russell terrier’s impressive jumping height, Erwitt captures the absurd hilarity of loving and caring for dogs across generations.
On the flip-side, Dolly Faibyshev’s saturated, high-contrast snapshots of dog shows expose us to a different kind of absurdity — manmade luxe and prestige juxtaposed with fierce canine loyalty and a desire to please.
Additional highlights include selections from Areca Roe’s Housebroken (2012–2015) series documenting the integration of less-common or exotic pets, like ferrets, chinchillas, fancy rats, and reptiles into a human’s domestic space, and Hellen van Meene’s Dogs and Girls (2011–2012) series, in which she captures compelling portraits of young girls paired with different dogs of various levels of scrunkly-ness, from my personal favorite, the Irish Wolfhound, to the Wire-Coated Dachshund.
Best in Show is a joyous and fun exhibition bursting at the seams with an inexplicable and nonsensical adoration for species that will never truly understand us and viceversa. The aesthetic beauty in that is something only nutty animal lovers will appreciate.