Photographer and Echo Park resident Jennifer Lyn Browne starts her day with a morning walk accompanied by her camera and her dog, Chicholina, an eight-year-old Akita mix. This daily routine of walking and taking street photos has turned into a blog, Doggy Du Jour. While Browne, 42, a native of Canada, has photographed dogs at Echo Park Lake and other parts of the neighborhoods, most of her subjects sit – as well as snarl and growl – behind the front yard fences she and Chicholina (pictured below the slide show) walk by. Walking your dog in Echo Park does have its downside, Browne has learned first hand. Recently, Chicholina was attacked by a loose pitbull that had jumped a fence. Browne now avoids that block and is more wary of stray dogs. But said she and Chicholina continue to enjoy their morning walks, with Browne taking photos along the way.
“She has been with me for every single picture on the blog so in my mind, she is part of the project. It’s amazing how many dogs she has befriended through the process. Dogs that once rushed the fence with their teeth bared ready to fight are now happy to see her and touch noses.”
Click on the link below to read a Q&A with Browne about her photography, blog and Chicholina.
Q: You started the blog back in July and it looks like there is a post almost every day? Is that your goal? One photo a day?
A: Yes. A photo a day. It creates structure in the photography aspect of my life. Most days, I wake up, post on the blog and then take Chicholina for a long walk around the neighborhood and shoot more pictures. A few evenings a week, I download what I have shot and edit. I like to bookend my day with photography. It feeds my soul. I had a clear goal when I created Doggy Du Jour: a lot of blogs and news websites require a time commitment and a degree of mental effort to read them. I like the idea that on any given day, once a day, a viewer can go to the blog and see something new that takes only moments of their time and evokes a positive feeling. My goal is to make people smile, not think. If I am having a tough day at an office gig, I find myself going to my own blog for a moment of canine therapy. The images and quotes elevate my mood and I hope they do the same for others.
Q: How long do you plan on taking the photos for this series?
A: When I started the blog I committed to a year. The reason for this was personal discipline. It’s easy or me to flit from one project to another and hard for me to commit for the long term. The process of making these images was already part of my day to day life. Actually doing something with the images requires me to stay engaged and disciplined. No matter what my mood is, what I did the night before or how I feel about the work I am generating I must put something out there. There are days that I post an image that I am not thrilled with but putting work out there consistently is one of the objectives here.
Q: Have you had any scary encounters with either the dogs or their owner?
A: There are a lot of hostile dogs out there. When I started shooting Echo Park it was with a point and shoot with a viewer on the back of the camera. A month ago, it broke down and I started shooting with a professional camera- a large black thing that requires looking through the view finder. Immediately, I noticed a difference in the experience. It seems that putting a large black object in front of my face freaked a lot of the dogs out. I got a lot of great pictures of serious teeth- but it wasn’t the same. Part of the joy for me is connecting with the animals, particularly the ones I see day after day. Often times, their initial response to us is aggression. After seeing us consistently for a while, the dogs get curious about Chicholina and about me. Chicholina is pretty open to most dogs. If they bark aggressively, she will bark back but if they are open to getting to know her, she smiles (wags her tail) and says hello.
Last week Chicholina was attacked by a pitbull that jumped a fence. It was terrifying. It made us both a bit wary and I doubt we will ever walk that block again (which sucks because it’s 2 blocks from home and she had some dog pals on the block). I chalked it up to a random very negative experience. That same week, a dog on my block was killed by a different pitbull. One of the officers who showed up when Chicholina was attacked sincerely recommended that I carry a tazer with me when I walk with her. I don’t think I could ever do that. I hate the idea of living a life that requires me to be armed. But I am far more aware of loose dogs and do all I can to avoid them.
With regards to people, almost all of them are cool with me taking pix of their dog. Unless I get specific permission from the dweller of the home, I am always on public property when I take pictures so legally, I am within my rights. Anytime I encounter a person I ask if they are ok with me photographing their dogs. Only one person said no and that was because they had 5 very vocal dogs that were being stirred up by our presence. Echo Park is truly unique in that there are so many fenced in front yards with dogs permanently outside so most of the time I don’t encounter the owners. At one point, I posted the blog on a national dog blog and the first response I got was from a guy who accused me of violating privacy by photographing peoples pets on their private property. I believe he described what I was doing as ‘creepy’. It really shook me up. Until that moment I felt like the blog was a celebration and appreciation for dogs and assumed that people would be proud to see their animal on the site. I gave it a lot of thought and discussed it with a few people so that I could find some clarity. I decided that the preponderance of front yard dogs is something that is truly unique and definitive about Echo Park. Most neighborhoods don’t have fenced in front yards and many communities are filled with dog owners who don’t leave their dogs outside 24/7. If I was creeping across lawns in Hancock Park trying to capture images of dogs over high fences, that would be a different story. In Echo Park, I am simply walking down the sidewalk taking images of what is right in front of me. I am a lot more conscientious about asking people when I see them and most people are delighted that I care enough about their pet to what to grab a few photos. Often, they make time to tell me about their dog and participate in the process of getting a good picture.
Chicholina is a great ambassador. She is curious, calm, friendly and super soft to pat.
Q: Do you have a regular morning route?
A: Long before I started the blog I had a routine of getting up, putting on my ipod, picking up my camera, taking a long walk and shooting the neighborhood. It’s my morning meditation. I escape all my mundane worries and thoughts and just enjoy listening to music, seeing what I see and watching Chicholina interact with the neighborhood. When it’s hot out, after a while she will stop in a grassy shady patch and just lie down. Instead of fighting her, I simply sit with her and take the neighborhood in through her senses- I look where she is looking and listen to what she is hearing. She’s a pretty zen dog and she supports me in slowing my body and mind down and just appreciating my surroundings. I try to take a different route every day- even just walking on the other side of the street. It’s amazing the different things I see when I cross the street or even if I walk the same block but in the other direction. My love for photography started with travel and street photography. When I have a camera in my hand, it creates a chronic awareness of the environment around me and I find myself delighting in all that I see- the broad picture and the details. When I photograph Echo Park, it is not just the dogs. I photograph the flowers and the houses and things I see on the ground and things I see in the sky. I like the images to be a walking diary of whatever I see on my walk. When people walk around a neighborhood they don’t just look at what’s in front of them. They look up and down and side to side. I want to capture all those viewpoints. To me, the project is sort of a love letter to the community.
After months of walking, shooting and editing I realized that a significant portion of the photos were of dogs. I also realized that I had inadvertently started the process of creating a body of work. I am still struggling with how to best present the images. Previously, I have shown bodies of work as a series of single framed images. To me, this body of work needs to be presented in multiple images to be appreciated. That’s what inspired the blog. It’s a way for the viewer to take in multiple images at the same time and get a bigger picture sense of the community. My dream is to create a book- The Dogs of Echo Park (and Other Things).
Q: What kind of dog is Chicholina? Does she/he mind stopping and taking photos?
A: Chicholina is an 8 year old Akita mix. Her previous owner found her loose on the street in Echo Park when she was a puppy. Because of her age and breed she is pretty mellow. She prefers to mosey than run. She definitely gets irritated when I stop and start too much (especially at the beginning of the walk when she is super energetic) and she also doesn’t like going down the blocks where every house has one if not three dogs rushing the fence to yell at her. In a way, she’s the bait for getting the dogs to the front of the yard. Many of them probably wouldn’t rush the fence if it was just me. I figure that I stop and start constantly so she can smell the grass or take in some shade so she can stop when I want to take some pictures! She has been with me for every single picture on the blog so in my mind, she is part of the project. It’s amazing how many dogs she has befriended through the process. Dogs that once rushed the fence with their teeth bared ready to fight are now happy to see her and touch noses.
Q: How long have you lived in Echo Park?
A: I moved to Los Angeles from Canada 14 years ago. I spent almost 10 years in mid wilshire and always found it a bit impersonal compared to Montreal. I never saw any people in their yards or on the street and I hated having to grocery shop at a superstore all the time. I moved to Silver Lake for a year, then Echo Park. I have been here for 3 years and I love it! It is intergenerational, intercultural and there are people from all ranges of socio-economic backgrounds. I can walk to the post office, the bakery, the coffee shop, the drug store, the library and the grocery store… and to restaurants, the lake, etc… That is how I was used to living in Montreal and I love it.
Q: Are you a professional photographer? If not, what do you do for a living?
A: I studied commercial photography in Montreal and over the years I have done portraits, headshots, stills and a variety of other things. Most of the time, I find commercial work motivates me to put my camera down on the weekend rather than pick it up. A few years ago, I decided to stop fighting myself and pursue photography as art. Now, it is rare a day goes by that I don’t shoot and shoot and shoot. I support myself through a variety of jobs- as a teaching artist and as a bookkeeper (I did an undergrad business degree before going to photography school). I love numbers and I think that is part of what drew me to photography. Prior to digital photography, it was a very scientific process. Working with inner city middle school kids is an amazing experience. There is such a huge divide between the rich and the poor in this country so it is important to me to be of service in a meaningful way. Empowering youth through creativity is a joy.
Q: Why do you think Echo Park residents are so dog-crazed?
A: I think it’s cultural. When I have travelled through latin countries, there are always lots of dogs. Many of them are street dogs but even the ones with a home are still outdoors on the street. Echo Park was once almost entirely residents from Mexico or Central America and still seems to be a predominantly Latin community. Most families have at least one if not 3 dogs that reside outdoors and guard the property (in the case of all the Chihuahuas, through volume alone). I think that because so many people have dogs, the landlords are very accepting of tenants with dogs. It can be a bitch to find a place that will allow animals in this city so it seems natural that dog owners will migrate to a community that embraces animals- be they dogs, cats, chickens, turtles or geese. They are everywhere!