William Wegman: “Being Human” | Talks at Google


[MUSIC PLAYING] MEGAN GREEN: Though initially
trained as a painter, William Wegman is best known
for his conceptually-driven photographs and
videos featuring dogs. An early adopter of video
as an artistic forum, Wegman continues to make
work that is equally distinguished by
its experimentation while simultaneously
appealing to a broad audience. After adopting a
Weimaraner named Man Ray in the early
1970s, he embarked on what he describes as a long
and fruitful collaboration with the canine, featuring
his dogs in humorous and often contrived scenarios. After Man Ray’s death,
Wegman’s second dog, Fay Ray, and her offspring,
became the central characters of his work. Wegman’s whimsical photographs
of his Weimaraner dogs have been celebrated
in the art world and enjoyed by pet lovers
for nearly four decades. This entirely new volume
presents more than 300 images from the artist’s personal
archive, unearthing previously unseen gems along
with iconic images that have made Wegman, along
with the dressed up dogs Man Ray, Fay Ray and
others beloved worldwide. Please welcome William Wegman. [APPLAUSE] WILLIAM WEGMAN: Don’t get up. Oh yeah, here we are. Yeah, well, one of the reasons
that I photograph these dogs so much is, it was kind
of like the Son of Sam. They made me do it. You know that story? Instead of being
a psycho killer, I’m a psycho photographer. So yeah, it’s been a long,
very long history photographing these dogs. but I
want to start the talk with before I got a
dog, four or five images from the late ’60s, early ’70s. And I assume I just hit this. There it is. So this is the first
photograph that I ever took that made me realize I
could make photographs as art rather than whatever
other reason you would take photographs for. Back then, not everyone had
a cell phone, obviously, with a camera attached. So it was something you had
to learn about, get up, and do somehow. In this case, I was teaching
at the University of Wisconsin, and I had one of my
students teach me how to print and develop. That’s one of the beauties
of universities is, you can tap into all
of those resources. And I certainly did
that with my students. I used them as my
models sometimes and as my information. I wasn’t a really good teacher. So I only taught
for three years. And I had nothing else to
do but move to New York and become a famous artist. So if I had become
a good teacher, I would have still been at
the University of Wisconsin, tenured and all of that. So this started it all. I made this in Wisconsin
when I was teaching there. And what appealed to me
was the sort of circles. I had drawn little
circles on my hand and when I reached
down into cotto salami, my hand seemed to
dissolve into it. So I stole these from the
party and went home to my house and took this picture. And I did didn’t say “eureka.” And from there, I started
to make other photographs. And here’s another example of
a non-dog piece that’s really about photography, isn’t it? It’s about trick photography,
because certainly what happens after the
middle frame isn’t what happens in the last frame. Something far more
amazing, but somehow it made a really
nice, nice picture, I think, and explained
photography, in a way, to the masses. Here’s another use of milk,
kind of a mistake use. Three mistakes,
this one is called. I used milk a lot because
it photographed well. And my dogs liked it too,
which, as you can see there, rivets him in place. I didn’t have to
train him at all. I just had to place him. And then, of course,
the hard thing was building the whole floor
under him while he was there, and that took some time
and some real artistry, but I managed it. And this is my first
dog, Man Ray at, I think, about seven weeks. And he was a fat, tubby
little Weimaraner, as I found out why months
later, when he pooped out a gigantic, blue balloon. A beach ball, in fact. He thought of himself as a
person rather than a dog. Let’s see what else I got here. And there’s him in old age. There he is, photographed
with this unique camera called a Polaroid
2024, which takes pictures that are 24 inches
vertically at that time instantly. Development time was
about 70 seconds then. So I would kind of
build these works. This was actually my very
first color photograph. I just started out
using black and white and didn’t think
color was something I should be dealing with. But I felt since I
painted his nails red, it would be a suitable
first color photograph. And I titled this one Fay Ray,
not realizing 15 years later I would name my next dog
“Fay Ray,” after Fay Wray. And other things with
the Polaroid camera with Man Ray, the camera
at that time was in Boston, and I was living in New York. And so I would stay
with a friend in Boston and use her props. She was working with Styrofoam. I think that was
one of her socks. So these pieces are kind
of built on the spot. And this one’s titled “Bad Dog.” And it was the last photograph
I was ever able to take. Not true. And another kind of
photograph that startled me because it’s kind of kitschy,
it’s anecdotal, isn’t formal. I don’t know if it’s art
or not, but whatever. I took it, and
there you have it. This was taken on location
in Rangeley, Maine, where I spent my summers and still do. Interestingly, there
is a kid holding up the stuffed owl and another
kid behind the house sticking that taxidermied deer head in. So these were lots
of fun to make. And I imagine this would be a
suitable last photograph of Man Ray. He was getting very old. This was on Kennebago
Lake in a canoe. And I really contemplated just
launching it and then driving back to New York,
because it just seemed like it would be
a good way to end it all. But I didn’t. I rescued him in time
for this picture, which is one of my favorites. I titled it “Dusted.” It’s made with flour standing
over him on a step ladder. And if you look closely, you
can see these bronze stripes that I sprayed on his back,
because I had been making him into a raccoon, and
I had some flour to sprinkle on his nose
just for some details, but the flour looked
so great I ended up climbing up on this
ladder and having another person– a lot
of these photographs weren’t really taken by me, but
I don’t think that’s a problem. Right, Jason? I take a very small
percentage of my own pictures. And here is Fay in one of
her really classic moments. She’s like Pandora, I think. After Man Ray died,
I didn’t photograph another dog for five years
or do much of anything for five years. As it turns out,
I thought I was, but when I looked through
everything, I really wasn’t. So this is Fay Ray. And I love the way she’s– I loved her look. She looked different
from Man Ray. She was thoroughbred,
a real Weimaraner, not a pretend Weimaraner. And she could do some
pretty crazy things. Getting her in front of
the camera in her youth gave me some possibilities
I didn’t have with Man Ray. Unlike Man Ray, who was
six weeks old when I first photographed him, Fay
was practically a year. She took to it. The first time I got
her was at six months, so I didn’t start her off. And so the camera is
bigger than this podium here, quite a bit bigger, and
the dog is in front of it, and I’m off to the side. So I’m here looking
at Fay, who’s there. And so I say “Ready, Fay?” And when I say “ready,” she
looks right into the lens. I don’t know. Somehow she knew how to do that. And this is the first– It’s called “Dressed
for a Ball.” It’s a good title. And it was the first
dress dog thing I made. And I didn’t wanna do the
anthropomorphic thing, but this was so weird and
exciting that I said “Hm.” And that led to this, which
is the evil stepmother in my first children’s
book “Cinderella.” She has her Joan
Crawford look there. And then how do I do
this with one dog? Well, I don’t. I get another dog. And how I did that is, I bred
Fay to Arko, a German dog in Maryland. That’s a whole nother story. A very exciting
one, because I had to photograph Barbara
Bush at the White House, and it was before 9/11. So a German shepherd got
in on my Polaroid truck to check for bombs
not very carefully, and went over to my personal
bag and started going crazy. And the guard said, “Do you
have a sandwich in there?” And I said “No, my
dog was in heat, and I dropped her off
in Virginia on the way to this event.” So. And this is Fay’s
daughter Battina. This looks like Lolita, right? Of course. It’s Lolita. A pretty sexy picture
of a dog, I must say. And Batty was as
different as from Fay as Fay was from Man Ray. She was narcoleptic,
very long and careless, and really a wonderful
kind of a superstar. As you can see by the
next few pictures, she’s really a spectacular dog. And every time I’d use
the Polaroid camera, which was maybe a
week out of a month, I forgot where I left off. So that’s why I keep inventing
so many different movements. And this is the first day
of her son’s life, Chip. And six months later,
he’s playing the flute. So dogs mature
spectacularly, don’t they? This dog, Chip, led to a lot
of other children’s books that I started to make,
not with a Polaroid camera, but with my Hasselblad in
a two and quarter format. And this is another
sister Batty, Fay’s other daughter, Crooky,
who is really a wonderful dog. I didn’t have her, but she
belonged to a friend of mine in Maine and loved to work,
as all the Weimaraners that I’ve had have liked to do. I thought of making
a movie, which I would title “The Hardly
Boys” as a parody of “The Hardy Boys.” So this is [? Shundo ?]
and Fay’s number one son with Batty in a scene
from the Hardly Boys in an amphibious car. And it was really, really
difficult to teach him how to drive. It’s not like a simple car,
where you just press on it. There’s so many other
different features. So after the training period,
we were able to do this. This one was even harder,
how to teach dogs to sail. Because you get into
a car, you press it, but sailing a boat on a lake,
believe me, is not easy. Right, Jason? I’m saying “Jason” because
Jason is underwater there in a wet suit, making
sure the boat goes close enough to the dock and
the giant Polaroid camera. Then, after all of this
kind of narrative stuff, I wanted to get back to
something that looked like art. I think I was criticized
by someone saying that I was going down the wrong line. So I wanted to obey
that, and I started to make things
that look like art. This looks like Leger, correct? Am I right? Art majors out
there, or art lovers? And another abstract
picture using the two dogs with a Polaroid camera. You can see the Polaroid
fuzz marks on top there. That’s how they come
out of the camera. And other fun things
that are kind of formal. This is where I’ve
turned them into rocks. Weimaraners really sort
of transcend themselves. Another fun thing. This is Chip, who’s a very
handsome dog, I thought. And another dog, who is really
one of my assistants, Marlo. She had a dog, a very dark
Weimaraner with yellow eyes she named Mazzy. And Mazzy would work
just once in a while but really love
the strobe lights. So this is a picture, one
of my favorite pictures that I made with her. And there’s another one. You can see she’s almost black. More of those trick things. And there’s the cover
of the recent book. This is Candy, one of the least
photographed of all of my dogs. She usually found a way to make
a really awful face in front of the camera. I think that strobe
lights bothered her. So I ended up using
her in action a lot. This is her daughter, Penny. And this is my dog, Flo,
who’s still with us. She’s now seven. And this is not with
a Polaroid camera but with the digital stuff. This is Flo’s brother, Topper,
a year and a half younger half-brother. This kind of looked like some
sort of electric connection, this picture. And then some flying stuff
and some magic with candy. And that’s the end of that talk. So now we’re supposed to
talk some more, right? MEGAN GREEN: We’re
going to talk some more! Thank you. That was great. [APPLAUSE] I think that was a great
overview of this book, which is comprehensive in nature and
a really great introduction or reintroduction. Or, if you’re a longtime
fan, it works for everyone. So obviously we’ve seen
your beloved Weimaraners. Can you tell a little
bit more about the breed, how you found the
breed, and what it was like to popularize the breed? WILLIAM WEGMAN: Yeah. Well, I didn’t get
one to photograph. I got one because my
first wife, Gayle, the deal was, we would
get a dog when we moved to California from Wisconsin. So she wanted a
short haired dog, like a Dalmatian or
something, and someone said “What about one Weimaraners?” And I had remembered
seeing them, so there was an ad in a Long
Beach paper, “Weimaraners $35.” And so I went out to see
this litter of Weimaraners. And I swear, I flipped a coin. I still didn’t want one. So I picked tails, and it was
tails five times in a row. So we had to get that dog. MEGAN GREEN: And now
you’re glad you did. WILLIAM WEGMAN: I did, yeah. So I brought him
back to the studio, and then I just started
to do photo and video, so he was always in my
studio and of course I photographed him. And I [INAUDIBLE] with him. MEGAN GREEN: And you’ve
popularized the breed too. And because of that,
there’s been a lot more– WILLIAM WEGMAN: Yeah, I was
a little worried about that. In 1978, eight years,
when Man Ray was eight, I didn’t photograph
him for a year, because I didn’t
want to do that. I didn’t want to be
nailed to the dog cross. But now, after he died and
I started to photograph Fay, I accept it and I
actually cherish that I think that I’m really
lucky to have had this, certainly embraced it
totally with Fay and all of her offspring. MEGAN GREEN: For sure. And so you’ve had
10, is that right? WILLIAM WEGMAN: I’ve had 10. MEGAN GREEN: And you showed
us, obviously, a lot of them have gone by from
Man Ray and Fay Ray, and Fay Ray had all
these offspring, and then now you
have Flo and Topper. WILLIAM WEGMAN: That’s
right, who you met. MEGAN GREEN: Who I have met
and who are absolute delights. WILLIAM WEGMAN: To some. MEGAN GREEN: To me. Can you tell us a
little bit about how their personalities
have differed over, you know, you’ve had
a lot of these dogs. You pick these dogs sometimes. Some you’ve inherited because
of their family lineage. Some you’ve actually
worked with and picked. Can you tell us a little bit
about your selection process and what their
personalities are like? WILLIAM WEGMAN: Yeah. Well, certainly, Man
Ray being the first was somehow oddly
memorable, also him starting so
young at six weeks. He was my only dog too, so he
didn’t really like other dogs, and I think he thought
of himself as a person. And he is the only
dog that I’ve had that would try to figure
out how to drive a car. I remember him
looking at my feet. Because he’d sit in the front. I had a pickup truck then. He’d look at my feet and look
at the wheel, and look at me. And once, when I was
developing photographs, he got the idea that
cones were interesting. So he kept finding
cones out of the kitchen and would bring, “Oh, this could
be a good toy for us, Bill.” So he kept thinking
of things, and he was really, really demanding. He also emitted a
high pitched whine when I wasn’t doing
something with him, which really got under my nerves. “OK, OK, we’ll do something.” MEGAN GREEN: Well,
these dogs all love you. I mean, I’ve seen you work
with them, and they’re all– WILLIAM WEGMAN:
Every dog I’ve had, even though they’ve been
very, very different, each one, each group, one thing
is, they really love to work. They love being in the studio. They just go down
there very happily, and that’s because I
don’t give them treats. It’s just like a thing we do. And I think because
they’re working dogs, like a hunting dog, they
like being around that kind of busy but not– you know how some people dress
up their dogs for Christmas or birthday parties? MEGAN GREEN: Yes. WILLIAM WEGMAN: I do it every
day, so it’s kind of their job, and they take it differently. MEGAN GREEN: How do
you feel about that? So there’s the Halloween
Dog Parade in New York, and now there’s a lot of
Instagram famous dogs. There’s Men’s Ware Dog,
and a lot of people are using Instagram as a way
to make their dogs famous. You kind of started
that whole thing. How do you feel about
how that’s evolved? WILLIAM WEGMAN: What
is Instagram, anyway? I don’t know how to go
on any of those things, but people have told
me that you should go put your stuff on Facebook,
and I don’t know how to do it, but I have people. MEGAN GREEN: I can help. WILLIAM WEGMAN: Yeah, I have
people that do it for me, and you can help me too. MEGAN GREEN: Yeah. WILLIAM WEGMAN: So
I think it’s good. I love showing my work, and
I love having an audience. You know what made
me so happy was, my dogs were on Sesame Street
a long time ago, 20 years ago. And when I biked the dogs
through the so-called projects down 18th Street
further down, I hear people say, “Hey, those are
those TV dogs,” or “Sesame Street.” These kids are only 20 years
old, and they have that. It makes me feel really good. MEGAN GREEN: It’s amazing. And you do bike with them. That’s how they get
walked, so these dogs have a very active life. WILLIAM WEGMAN: Oh, they do. I have to keep
them in good shape. There’s nothing worse than
a fat, ugly Weimaraner. Sorry if you happen to have
one, but you have to keep them. MEGAN GREEN: So this book,
it’s really interesting how it came to be, and
it’s amazing to see all of these photographs together. You had to go through
a lot of archives. You have a lot of pictures. You showed us even
a sampling here. What was that like
emotionally, to go back through this long history
of four or five decades to select 300 pictures
to put in this volume? WILLIAM WEGMAN:
Yeah, well, I kind of forgot what I was doing. I would rent the cameras, as I
said, for a few days at a time, or sometimes for a
project or whatever. And then I’d put them away
in these archival boxes and forget about them. Certain ones would
be rephotographed with a 4×5 camera at the time. And those would be used for
calendars or occasional book. But a huge percentage of
them were just stored, put in storage in these boxes. And one day, Jason,
who is over there, said we should take
a look at these. And it was pretty amazing. There’s so many things
that I forgot that I did, directions that had dropped off. Also, the emotional thing
was, we worked rephotographing them digitally backwards. So I could see the dogs getting
younger and younger and then before they were
born and another one. It was very emotional, seeing
the curve of these 10 dogs. MEGAN GREEN: And
speaking of how you’ve selected all these scenes
over the years and you’ve put them in boats, you’ve done
all these very complicated things, what inspires you? So you’ve talked a little
bit about art history and how you went back to art
history, but when you go, “OK, what’s the next concept,”
“what’s the next,” since this book is
organized thematically? So how does that come to you? How do these different
scenes and costumes? WILLIAM WEGMAN: Yeah. Well, for a while, it
was children’s books. And that was fun for a
while until it became not fun for a while. And I always loved putting
my dogs, getting them up. They’re used to that through
the Polaroid camera, which you had to raise up to that level. So I got used to
having them on things. And it’s a way of
keeping them there too. Once you get them up, getting
down is more complicated. And they wait for
me to lift them up. MEGAN GREEN: Yeah, they
don’t startle, really. I mean, I’ve seen
you work with them. Most dogs would be running. WILLIAM WEGMAN: Well,
they’re not afraid, and I don’t put them up
on things they don’t like. So if something bothers
them, the last thing I want is that look, so I avoid that. So we keep the studio calm. MEGAN GREEN: There’s
a lot of trust. WILLIAM WEGMAN:
Yeah, there’s trust. And they yell, and it’s just,
“OK, you don’t want to do that? We’ll do something else.” But a funny thing happened, my
wife, who you met, Christine, got completely sick of this
crappy furniture I would drag off the street to use
as props. and our house was just full of it. So she thought what if we
use some really great stuff that we get from Eames or Herman
Miller or one of these places. So she started to
bring these things in, and that led to a whole new– because they certainly had
colorful, bright, interesting props, and that led
to a show called “Good Dogs on Nice Furniture.” And that was a
pretty recent thing, but then last late
spring, French “Vogue” asked me to do some dogs with
all of these designer clothes. And we did that, and
that was spectacular. I had people making
wigs for them, and really I thought
dressing up dogs wasn’t going to work
because of Photoshop. “Oh, he just sticks
a head on a, you know, and photoshops it in.” But no, there’s a
way to work with it. So you really know theatrically
the dogs are cooperating. MEGAN GREEN: And
you don’t photoshop. These dogs are– WILLIAM WEGMAN: No, I might
clean up some gunk or something from around the
edge, but I never stick their heads on stuff. MEGAN GREEN: That’s
pretty amazing. So speaking of dressing
them up, making them taller, this book is called
“Being Human.” What does it mean to be human? You’ve mentioned that Man
Ray thought he was a person. WILLIAM WEGMAN: Yes. MEGAN GREEN: So
what does that mean? And in the context of this book,
what does it mean to be human? WILLIAM WEGMAN: It’s a
title that the real author of the book,
producer, Bill Ewing– does he go William Ewing? I guess. He thought of it, and I didn’t
really like it at first. And then I thought,
“OK, well, it’s OK.” I’m not sure if it’s OK, but
all of the different categories that we ended up using
made it really interesting, that there’s dogs
as human people, there’s dogs as lots
of other things. MEGAN GREEN: Right, right. That’s very cool, and
I think a lot of people do think of their pets
as part of their family, as having very human qualities. WILLIAM WEGMAN: Yeah, until
I had my kids, though, I realize that
they’re different. Dogs are different
from children. MEGAN GREEN: In what ways? WILLIAM WEGMAN:
In a lot of ways. Their college is a lot cheaper. I don’t know. I mean, I care
about them as much, but when they don’t call– although that’s similar. When they’re lost, some of my
dogs used to wander for hours and eventually come back. I mean, they’re hunting dogs. They would just
go and go and go. Yeah, it’s similar
but different. MEGAN GREEN: Some of these
photos seem super complicated. Like you were talking
about the boat. What are some of these
scenes that have just been so difficult to execute? WILLIAM WEGMAN: I can’t
believe I bothered to do some of these things. I don’t work as hard
now, but I used to. And when you have something
so expensive and so formidable as the Polaroid
2024 camera, which you import with a Ryder truck. You had generators,
light banks, assistants, you’re spending $10,000
a day, you get attention. You just go– and I
just used to use it as though it was 35 millimeters. Click, click, click, click. Even though it was $50
every time you go click. So it was pretty amazing. And I’m really glad
that I used that camera, but I’m really happy now
that I’m not anymore. It’s very difficult. MEGAN GREEN: And what
are you using now? WILLIAM WEGMAN: Jason,
what do I use now? JASON: A Hasselblad. WILLIAM WEGMAN: And? JASON: Digital back. WILLIAM WEGMAN: Yeah? What’s the digital back? Do you know? JASON: It’s Hasselblad. WILLIAM WEGMAN: Yeah,
that’s what I use. MEGAN GREEN: OK. So that’s awesome. Switching gears a little
bit, so we talked. You mentioned a
couple of projects– “Sesame Street,” “Vogue.” That’s a wide
range, and it’s made you widely known everywhere. What projects stick out that
you’ve absolutely loved? How do you find these projects? How do these
projects come to you, and what’s that been
like, to be invited to do all of these really
interesting things? WILLIAM WEGMAN: I think
probably the first children’s books with the Polaroid
camera were kind of amazing. It led to a direction I didn’t
think I could have gone into but did, and I showed
a couple of pictures from there, notably
the evil stepmother. But I also did little
red riding-hood. And that interested me because
of the animal transformation, the grandmother dog
thing with my dogs. That made sense. With Cinderella, I had the
idea of adoption appeal to me. Because you adopt a dog, you’re
either its fairy godmother or evil stepmother. Dogs are usually sent away
someplace and adopted, so that seemed to be
a nice way to do it. Plus, I had a cast. I had a whole family, mother,
Fay, daughter, Batty, other son being both the Wolf and
the Prince in those books. So I had a cast, a
family of family actors, an acting troupe. MEGAN GREEN: You
had a whole troupe. WILLIAM WEGMAN:
Yeah, a whole troupe. So doing all these
books, I made maybe about 12 children’s books. MEGAN GREEN: I know. I had them all. WILLIAM WEGMAN: So it
was really fun to do. MEGAN GREEN: That’s awesome. And so you’ve done a lot of
these really popular culture sorts of things. It has exposed you
to so many people. But you’re a fine
artist by practice. Your postcard paintings– WILLIAM WEGMAN: Thank you. MEGAN GREEN: Your postcard
paintings are amazing. I’m a big fan of those. And I was hoping
you could tell us a little bit about what
that was like to reconcile doing these really popularized
commercial projects with your fine art
practice and your training and your love of painting. WILLIAM WEGMAN: Well, you have
to realize that, in the ’60s, painting was being attacked. It was dead. And so I turned to, not
because someone told me to, but I found myself
interested in video, which was available
in a portable format for the first time when I
was teaching in Wisconsin. And also the idea
of using a camera. So that was really,
I think, advanced, in a way, and
pioneering, so to speak. MEGAN GREEN: Yes. WILLIAM WEGMAN:
But painting, which the reason I went to
art school was because I loved to draw and paint– “Hey, you should
go to art school. You’re a really good artist.” So I went to art and found out
painting was not really it. And then grad school,
started to work on a grant with a
biological computer lab, working with engineers, making
interactive environments and machines. And that seemed like
it was really advanced. Painting seemed like it was
so 19th century and so passe. And then I found myself
not around a big university but just in my studio. And I said, “You know,
I really miss painting.” It was something that
I really loved doing. So secretly I started
doing it again. I didn’t show anyone. In fact, I painted
my first painting on the back of one of
those stretchers there. I had leaned it
against the wall. And the painting was of– it had a telephone
wire broken in it, which means no one can tell
anyone that I’m painting. So it was kind of a secret,
sheepish enterprise. But each year, I
sort of advanced it, until one year I said “nah.” So I stopped for
about five years, and then I started again. And now it’s just part of me. I’ve probably been painting
as long as anything. And some people, like
yourself, do know me as that. MEGAN GREEN: For sure. And I think that was
a great transition about you being a pioneer. Because one of the other
projects that you have currently up is at the Met. And you and your wife have
given 174 of your early video works, which have been
described as pioneering works of the 1970s and video art. And it’s an amazingly
generous gift, and I was wondering if you could
talk a little bit about how you think the videos are perceived
today versus when you made them and what that journey has
been like to now see them collectively at the Met? WILLIAM WEGMAN: Well, sure. I think the gift thing,
I was just really happy they wanted it. MEGAN GREEN: Yeah. WILLIAM WEGMAN: “Really? OK.” So I’m really thrilled,
and they did an amazing job installing that work, I
thought the video especially. But then I first started to make
it, I knew that it was good. And the reason I knew it
is, when I went to edit it, technicians would
stop and look at it. It was riveting. And my parents would like it. And my parents’ uncles, who
didn’t like anything, liked it. And so it drew people in. I wasn’t sure if the
art world would like it. In fact, some didn’t. I remember Joel Shapiro,
a friend of mine now, first time I saw it, I
gave a talk at Pratt– “I hate humor in art.” You know, I do
too, but not mine. I will hate everyone else’s. I think it’s stupid. But mine was somehow
OK, don’t you think? MEGAN GREEN: I totally think so. And they talk a lot in the show
about this East Coast and West Coast almost rivalry
in what was happening in the art of the ’70s. Did you really feel that? And what was going on? You were on the West
Coast at that time. WILLIAM WEGMAN: I
didn’t feel it at all. The work I was doing was
from Wisconsin, video. And then suddenly I was an LA
artist because the timing was so perfect, I think. There were other artists
that were working similarly. And so I was in
all of these shows called– the first one
was “24 Young LA Artists.” “11 LA Artists.” The work was just like,
I had one week in LA. So it seemed to be to
say something about LA. And that’s fine. And then when I moved to
New York three years later, I guess I was still in LA
for a really long time, and I might still be. MEGAN GREEN: It’s so
funny, considering you– WILLIAM WEGMAN: But I’m
a Massachusetts artist. That’s where– MEGAN GREEN: Where you’re from. WILLIAM WEGMAN: Yeah, when I was
five years old and my parents said, “Oh.” Or my uncles would say,
“How’s Billy the artist?” My parents would say, “He’s
upstairs drawing pictures.” So that’s the way it started. MEGAN GREEN: And now
you’re a neighborhood local of the Google office
here in Chelsea. WILLIAM WEGMAN: Yeah. MEGAN GREEN: You’ve been in
Chelsea a long time and not so much in LA, even
though that might be your former reputation. So what’s this
neighborhood change been like and watching that? You’ve been here a long time. WILLIAM WEGMAN: Someone wrote
a book about 18th Street, and they said when we moved in. The whole neighborhood changed. And not dramatically because
of me, but it did 23 years ago, or two years ago was when
Chelsea really started to– all of this. The empty lot started
to go this way. Then there was the
High Line and you guys. How long has this
place been here? MEGAN GREEN: I think about 12
years, something like that. You can fact check me there. WILLIAM WEGMAN: Pioneer again. MEGAN GREEN: Pioneers
of the neighborhood. We’re happier here,
and it’s nice, because people do you see
you walking and biking along with the dogs. WILLIAM WEGMAN: Yeah,
it’s really good. MEGAN GREEN: Cool. I’m going to also
invite anybody who has a question up
to the microphone, so you can start thinking
about your questions. And we’ll take some questions
from the audience too. Don’t be shy. But I will continue. I have more questions. So another project you’re
working on is with RxArt. RxArt is a fantastic
organization that puts contemporary art
into children’s hospitals and does fabulous projects. And you have a project that
is opening in Flint, Michigan. WILLIAM WEGMAN: That’s right. Pretty soon. We’ve found a way to
make these pictures– Jason, what’s the
name of the material we’re using on these photographs
that’s going to be in Flint? JASON: Infused– WILLIAM WEGMAN:
Infused something? JASON: Sublimated metal. WILLIAM WEGMAN: Yeah, it’s
an amazing process where the photographs of the
dogs can be made publicly, and they’re archival, and
they won’t get damaged. I’ve done other projects,
Rx-related, in hospitals. I went to a cancer unit
in Washington for kids, and it was just spectacular,
seeing them enjoy the work. And this trip, I’m going to be
doing art projects with them. So the pictures will be on
the walls in the hospital, and I’ll do stuff with the kids. MEGAN GREEN: It’s a very
nice way to give back. WILLIAM WEGMAN: With the dogs. MEGAN GREEN: Oh, are
the dogs coming too? WILLIAM WEGMAN: No, but
me and the dogs’ pictures. So they’ll be able to
make their own William Wegmans if they
want, or whatever else they want to make. MEGAN GREEN: That’s awesome. OK, we’ll take a
question from over here. AUDIENCE: Yes, hi there. WILLIAM WEGMAN: Hello. AUDIENCE: Thank you
so much for coming. My question is in regards
to the actual photographing of the dogs. So if you had any
specific tricks? You mentioned that
you didn’t use treats when photographing your dogs? WILLIAM WEGMAN: Yeah. So I was wondering if you
had any specific tricks of if you held up stuffed
animals or dog toys or how the dog really
stayed still for so long? WILLIAM WEGMAN: Every
group and every dog has had a different requirement. Two of them have been
really into balls. I just hold a ball
up, and suddenly Fay in particular, or Man Ray. But Chip, Batty’s son, you
could toss him the ball, it would bonk off his head. Or he’d go, “Why
are you doing that?” He was almost like “Ooh.” So I had to think
of different things. I don’t use food
generally, because I don’t like lurching and drool. I like more just a composure. The hardest thing, though, is in
the videos, where I had to get, let’s say, four dogs doing
four different things. Because you call one dog,
you go, “Fay,” and all four, “What do you want with Fay?” So I did something
really unique with that. I would talk through
tubes to throw my voice during the filming, to
have my voice come out in different ways. And another trick
I did was, we’d film one shot in a building
that had a roof that went in a different directions. I had somebody throw gravel
on, and it would roll down in different ways. So the dogs would react,
and that was very effective. But in the films, getting two
dogs to do different things is a super challenge. For photography, sometimes
with one dog, if I just hide, then he’ll look for me. And that’s with Topper, and
he gives a really great look. Like, where’d he go? And the movies again, I can talk
about this for the whole two hours. The movie is to make– there’s one dog that had
to play an evil character and a nice character. For him to look evil, I
walked far away from him, and he would squint, and
he’d look like a bad guy. And then to have the good
character, go really close. Because he liked me. And he’d look at me like that. So that’s how I changed his
personality, by proximity. There’s also a lot of
different things with angle. Like, a dog
photographed slightly below looks kind of stupid. They look smarter
when you go like this, because they get more cranium. Dogs that have their
ears that go this way, like Batty, look very
smart, because it makes their head bigger. And if they’re like this. There’s all these
different angles that you have to explore. AUDIENCE: Interesting. Thank you. WILLIAM WEGMAN: You’re welcome. MEGAN GREEN: Thank you. AUDIENCE: Hi. Also thanks for
coming, the same way. WILLIAM WEGMAN: Welcome. AUDIENCE: The first
time I came to New York, I think it was
about 2001, I really remarked on how many
Weimaraners there were around. I thought it made New York
seem very fancy, like all these people had
cooler, prettier dogs than the rest of the world. And when I finally moved here,
I guess about 10 years later, I really felt like I had passed
the age of the Weimaraner. They just weren’t
around anymore. Is that just my perception,
or have they really gone out of fashion? And if so, do you know why? WILLIAM WEGMAN: I don’t know
how to answer that question. There’s a few in
my neighborhood. And people say, “Oh, I
saw you walking your dogs the other day.” And no, I was not
around, and I’m the only one that walks them. So I know there’s someone
with two Weimaraners. There’s one guy that
had a Weimaraner. He’s from Iran. He and his dog were in Iran. And you’re not allowed
to have a dog in Iran. The dog learned to
be quiet and hide. Isn’t that amazing? MEGAN GREEN: Wow. WILLIAM WEGMAN: Yeah,
so I met this guy. He’s a painter. MEGAN GREEN: Did you ever think
about being a dog trainer? I mean, you have better tricks. WILLIAM WEGMAN: I’m
terrible at training. Ask anybody, right? My dogs are really untrained. But in the studio, they’re good. MEGAN GREEN: Very good. That’s amazing how that works. WILLIAM WEGMAN: It is. It’s amazing, but it’s true. MEGAN GREEN: So we have a
dog friendly culture here, as you can see. Do you think Flo
and Topper would make good Google
dogs, given that you said they’re not well-trained? Do you think? WILLIAM WEGMAN: Flo would
be in the restaurant. Wouldn’t leave that alone. And Topper would be
after these little dogs here, but in a friendly way. He loves other dogs. MEGAN GREEN: He does. WILLIAM WEGMAN: Yeah. MEGAN GREEN: He carries
his blanket around. WILLIAM WEGMAN: Yeah, he does. He nurses on it. He’s a child. Yeah. MEGAN GREEN: Oh, another
question, please. AUDIENCE: Hi, I think
you had mentioned, when you started off in art
school, you were a painter. WILLIAM WEGMAN: Yes. AUDIENCE: I was
interested in learning more about what other
artists you were looking at when you were younger. Because I know that around
the time when you’re talking about how you moved
to video and the art world was moving in this
different direction. So I just wanted to
learned more about that. WILLIAM WEGMAN: Well, I went
to art school first in Boston, Mass College of Art. And at that time in
1961, it was sort of the tail end of abstract
expressionism, third generation and all of that. And so the more advanced
artists, like Frank Stella and so forth, were doing these
sort of hard edged paintings, I think they were called. And there was a show that
I saw at the Brandeis Museum of Stella,
those black paintings. That was very influential to me. And I started to become, I
suppose, a minimal artist. And then when I went to
grad school in Illinois in mid-’65, I kept
doing that for a while. But then I quit
painting altogether and started to make these
interactive environments. Way over my head
scientifically, but I I sort of liked to follow that. But artists that I liked were,
besides Stella at the time, were Bruce Nauman I
thought was pretty amazing. He was one of the
first video people. So the reason I moved to
LA rather than New York after I didn’t get rehired
as a teacher in Wisconsin was Al Ruppersberg, a
really amazing artist that’s about my age. And he had a
presence in LA, so I moved to LA hoping to
meet him, and I ended up meeting him and Ed
Ruscha, and Baldessari, and a lot of the really
well known LA artists. And there was a whole
group of artists there that I became
friends with that were not quite so well-known, but yeah. MEGAN GREEN: You’re a big
hockey player, is that right? WILLIAM WEGMAN: I’m a
little hockey player, but I love hockey player. I do, and it’s close to
the Chelsea Piers here, and that’s a really
good thing for me. It really is my
social life, in a way. Because I don’t go to parties
or drink or anything like that. I just have the locker room. MEGAN GREEN: Have
you dressed the dogs up as hockey players yet? WILLIAM WEGMAN: I did
once, yeah, in a Brown– A friend of mine who went to
Brown, I dressed one of my dogs up in Brown hockey gear. And then my son, who just
arrived, went to Brown, and that’s a dirty word here. Yes? AUDIENCE: Hi, thank
you again for coming. You’re one of the
first photographers I can remember being a fan
of, when I studied photography in college. And I was wondering if
you’ve faced any resistance or criticism of accepting your
work with the dogs as art? Because they’re dogs or
because they’re dressed up? WILLIAM WEGMAN: Certainly. In fact, the first head of
MoMA was, I guess, Szarkowski, and he wasn’t really
a big fan of my work. It was more like real
photography rather than this. And I can sort of
understand that. I really don’t like
a lot of my work too. But some stuff just comes
through, in spite of myself. And that, I think,
drives me in a way. But when I first
did photographs, I didn’t want to be known
as a photographer at all. I thought that was a bad
word, being a photographer. But my first dealer, Sonnabend,
had a really amazing collection of photographs,
real photographs. And I gradually came to
know it and really like it. But some people
don’t like my work because I’m abusing the dogs. That is certainly not true. Anyone who has seen
me work, as you have. MEGAN GREEN: Oh, yes. WILLIAM WEGMAN:
Whether they think the dogs are being
not nobly projected, that’s another thing. Or if they don’t like
the work, that’s fine, but to think that they’re
abused is not good. It’s not right. AUDIENCE: Thank you. MEGAN GREEN: Cool. So my last question is, you have
a show coming up in conjunction with this book that’s touring. And that’s very exciting and
going all around the world. So maybe you could tell
us a little bit about that and whatever else
is next for you and what we can expect to see
from you and Flo and Topper? WILLIAM WEGMAN: Yeah, well,
there’s also coming up, there’s a show coming up at
the Met, the Metropolitan Opera Gallery, of the Cinderella
pictures in a couple of weeks. So that’s around the corner. And it’s nice to see
those reprised in a way. So I’m happy about
that, and I love music. So that’s good. It’s going to be
at the same time that the “Cendrillon”
is playing. The big show coming
up in Arles has many of the pictures that are
in this “Being Human” book. It’s going also to Melbourne
and some other places. MEGAN GREEN: That’s awesome. Well, thank you so
much for being here. Books are available
for sale in the back, and please check
out “Being Human.” And if we can give
a round of applause to Bill for being here. [APPLAUSE] WILLIAM WEGMAN: Thank you. Thank you. MEGAN GREEN: Thank you.

3 thoughts on “William Wegman: “Being Human” | Talks at Google

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *