The many breeds of Echo Park

The people of Echo Park are a diverse lot – and so are their pets. Echo Park photographer and resident Sonia Paulino has spent about three years taking portraits of people and their dogs as they walked around Echo Park Lake. The result is a series of more than 30 photos that reflect the different types of people and dogs that call Echo Park home – or at least enjoy a walk around the lake. One of the photos will be included in a show at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery later this year.

Here’s a Q & A with Paulino:

Q: Do you live in Echo Park? What motivated you to shoot pictures of dogs and their owners at Echo Park Lake?

A: I do live in Echo Park and am interested in the history of the neighborhood, especially the changes in population and culture within the last decade. I moved here only 5 years ago but hear a lot of stories. I’m a people watcher and am intrigued by the myriad of “types” strolling around the lake on any given day. Photographing people with their dogs was a way of narrowing down the options of who to ask to photograph. The idea is an extension of a previous project about couples. I’m also becoming more interested in family portraits.

Q: Have you done portraits of pets and their owners before?

I’ve taken pictures of people with their pets before but only sporadically. This is my first concentrated effort working within that specific theme. I’ve come to realize that it may be a commercially viable approach to getting more commissioned portrait assignments. Photographing people with their dogs (or cats even) is appealing to the client in that they justifiably want to celebrate/document their relationship with their pets, and appealing to me as a continued exploration of representing care and mutual identity.

Q: How do you take the photos and select the subjects?

A: I started the series in 2006 and am still working on it. I shoot mostly in the Spring and Summer when the days are long. They are made with a medium format camera on a tripod and portable strobe lighting. My assistant and I set everything up and wait for a dog walker to come by. I’ll ask them if they would be willing to pose for me. I feel the best portraits are a collaborative effort. I’ll ask most anybody with a dog, but would like more variety in my collection of subjects, be it in their ethnicity, sense of style, or breed of dog. The best are people who dress their dogs 🙂

Q: How do people react when asked to be photographed?

Most people say yes, and I think find it flattering. I like that. I’m all about honoring the ordinary. I have a tit-for-tat going with this one guy who I’ve encountered on several occasions. I ask him every time, and he always says no.

Q: Do the dog owners get a photo?

I get people’s email addresses with a release form and send them jpegs of the pictures we took together. A lot of older generation Latinos don’t have email. If it’s a really good picture I’ll make prints and find a way to give them one. It would be great to have an exhibit locally where I could invite the people in the pictures. They are very detailed and fun to look at printed large, about 40″ x 48″. One of them will be showing at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery later this year!

Q: What about you?

I’m 33 years old and do not own a dog. I have a Master’s Degree in Fine Arts from UC San Diego.

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