Thursday, September 8, 2011

As we approach the ten year anniversary of the infamous day that will be forever imprinted in the hearts and minds of the American public, it is the perfect time to shed light on the heroic search and rescue dogs that arrived on the scene at the Pentagon and The World Trade Center seeking survivors. Photographer Charlotte Dumas has made that possible through a photographic body of work that commemorates the brave efforts of these valiant canines. Retrieved is the name of her beautiful and poignant collection of portraits that pays homage to the heroes and heroines of that day that walked on four feet.

Seeking the last remaining 12 of the search and rescue dogs (most have passed away) that worked tirelessly to find survivors after the attacks, the title of Dumas's work could not be more appropriate. Dumas scoured the U.S for the 9/11 search and rescue dogs just as the dogs themselves searched for human life amongst the rubble ten years ago. As Dumas says of the title, "I found the dogs, I retrieved them, they were there to retrieve the victims, it is nicely rounded."
Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers and a few German Shepherds are the breeds that grace the glossy pages of this work as they are particularly well know for their retrieval skills and trainability. Though not as fast, graceful, or strong as they used to be, the portraits of the remaining grey muzzled canine saviors depicts a series of wise and compassionate close-ups. It is their eyes that tell the story, a story of pain and sadness but inevitably one of hope and fortitude. We learn of the unwavering energy of both human and animal alike from Merlyn, a black lab, and his handler Matt Clausen that worked the night shift for 5 nights. We learn of the comfort these gentle creatures were capable of bestowing upon exhausted first responders from Bretagne, a Golden Retriever who kept a fatigued fireman company when he stopped to catch his breath. We discover the strength of dogs and handlers alike as many of them went on to play a pivotal role in the search and rescue efforts after Hurricane Katrina. And most importantly, we recognize the spirit of both species and their ability to find the silver lining no matter the atrocity.

Though the attacks happened a decade ago, for many the pain still smarts like it was yesterday. However, as Dumas says, "These portraits are about how time passes, and how these dogs and their portraits offer us a way to deal with the things that happened as well as relying on them for comfort." Her photographs are on display at the Julie Saul Gallery in New York City.


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