martin usborne – mute

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Martin Usborne

MUTE: the Silence of Dogs in Cars

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I was once left in a car at a young age. I don’t know when or where or for how long, possibly at the age of four, perhaps outside Tesco’s, probably for fifteen minutes only. The details don’t matter.  The point is that I wondered if anyone would come back: in a child’s mind it is possible to be alone forever.

Around the same age I began to feel a deep affinity with animals – in particular their plight at the hands of humans. I remember watching TV and seeing footage of a dog being put in a plastic bag and being kicked. What appalled me most was that the dog could not speak back. It’s muteness terrified me.

I should say that I was a well-loved child and never abandoned and yet it is clear that both these experiences arose from the same place deep inside me: a fear of being alone and unheard. Perhaps this is a fear we all share at some level.

The images in this series explore that feeling, both in relation to myself and to animals in general. The camera is the perfect tool for capturing a sense of silence and longing: the shutter freezes the subject for ever and two layers of glass are placed between the viewer and the viewed: the glass of the lens, the glass of the picture frame and, in this instance, the glass of the car window further isolates the animal. The dog is truly trapped.

When I started this project I knew the photos would be dark. What I didn’t expect was to see so many subtle reactions by the dogs: some sad, some expectant, some angry, some dejected. It was as if upon opening up a box of grey-coloured pencils I was surprised to see so many shades inside.

I hope that these pictures are engaging and perhaps a little amusing. I want to show that there is life in the dark places within us.

I will stop writing now and you can stop reading. Words can only get us so far. After all, we are all animals.



Martin Usborne was born in London in 1973 where he still works and lives (with his miniature schnauzer, Moose). He trained in architecture, then philosophy, then psychology, then 3D animation before checking his compass once more and finally settling on photography. Phew. Martin’s current work consists mainly of portraits, both human and animal, and he is particularly interested in capturing the relationship between the two whether directly (when both appear in the frame) or indirectly (as in the case of the dogs in cars, where the human’s role is implied). He strives to make his work poignant but also a little playful – he feels there is too much unremitting sadness in contemporary art photography . He has published one book, about an old man that has only once left East London, and another, about what it is like to be a dog in the recession, that is coming out in April 2011.


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Martin Usborne


51 Responses to “martin usborne – mute”

  • Fisham and dah,
    just saw these messages. Thanks for the note about Marcie Jan Bronstein’s book which I have just googled – yep, very similar subject matter but I am afraid it is a coincidence. I have never heard of or seen that book (genuinely!). I guess the idea of dog’s in cars is a relatively straightforward one but hopefully my execution of it is unique.



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