Dogs do the catwalk


Emma O’Brien is helping homeless mutts put their best paws forward. The dogs line up, tails wagging and tongues lolling, ready to have their pictures taken. A professional portrait photographer, O’Brien turned her camera on unwanted canines in the midst of a troubled marriage. Finding one’s passion in life isn’t easy, but O’Brien discovered a way to combine two of hers, giving shelter dogs a second chance in the process.

“They are so special,” O’Brien says. “I have met some of the most delightful creatures.” Her dog portraits are not just about the cute factor. O’Brien takes photographs of shelter dogs outside of their often depressing environments, bringing their personalities to life to encourage people to adopt them and provide them with new lives. “I want to use the universal language of photography to help rehome unwanted pets,” she says. “It is really heartwarming to see a dog that I photographed going to a new home.” In 2017 O’Brien self-published her first book, Mutts, a series of photos and stories of rescue dogs and their new homes. With the book, she hoped to reduce the stigma around mixed-breed dogs, who are more likely to be put down than pedigrees. The proceeds from the book go towards the Sandton SPCA and Community Led Animal Welfare (CLAW), two organisations close to O’Brien’s heart.

But O’Brien doesn’t just photograph shelter dogs. She also does family portraits (pets included), newborn shoots (some dogs do make an appearance), and personal branding (no dogs – yet). Her career has spanned over a decade, and she moved to South Africa from the United Kingdom in 2009. O’Brien has won awards for her work, including a prize for her pet photography from the Tokyo International Foto Awards. But recognition is not what O’Brien wants. “I hope that my images inspire South Africans to adopt a dog from a shelter rather than buying one,” she says. After all, everyone deserves to live in a loving home.