When I first came across Theron Humphrey's photography on Instagram (This Wild Idea), myself and the Paws for the Cause team instantly became obsessed with his photos and the relationship he has with his Coonhound Maddie. We knew he'd be a perfect fit for this year's Paws Gala and quickly contacted him to discuss how we could work together. We recently had a chat with Theron to get some insight on his photography, Maddie and of course, his wild idea.
How did you get involved with Paws for the Cause this year?
Paws for the Cause reached out to me a few moons ago about the idea of doing an exhibition in Toronto. It was an easy sell for me. They are doing great things up there [In Toronto]. It was an awesome opportunity to help them fundraise and show the Maddie images as big prints, not just digital images on the web.
Can you describe this project for me? Where did the idea come from? When did you start?
This is a super serious project about dogs and physics. Not really, it's a project about my dog standing on funny or strange settings. The Maddie images evolved organically, I suppose like a lot of good things in life do. Maddie is a lighthearted pause to my daily life. I love meeting new folks and hearing their stories, but some days it feels draining. I always have to be on. But Maddie is easy to photograph, she's always there! For close to seven months we've spent every day together. It's become a way for me to breathe from my daily life, to do something funny.
How old is Maddie, and how long have you had her?
I figure Maddie's second birthday will be on April 1, seems fitting! I've had her for just about a year, I adopted her from the Cobb County animal shelter in Atlanta, GA. I found her on pet finder and went and saw her that day. I was walking her back to the kennel and she pressed against my legs the whole walk back. You can't put a dog back in a kennel after that.
How did you discover her impeccable balancing skills? How do you get her to pose so much? Is she always up for it, or does it take some coaching on your part?
Maddie is a funny dog. I'd be hanging out a friend, sitting on a couch, and Maddie would just stand nearby and not move. A lot of times she'd just rather stand than lay down. If you can be a pack leader with a Coonhound, love 'em a lot, and offer a fair bit of food along the way, they are trainable.
It's pretty simple, and I think she's always up for it, especially since the photos only take 30 seconds. Over time she has learned when I pick her up I want her to stay. She knows if she stands still she will get a treat and eventually a "Go!" command allows her to run around really fast. She really loves that command. I keep her on a "heel" command when we hike through the woods until she spots a squirrel, then I'll release her on the "Go!" and she starts leaping and racing around.
What's been the reaction to Maddie on Things? Has it gotten very popular? Do you and Maddie get much fan mail?
It's been amazing and slightly overwhelming! Ninety-nine per cent of folks out there have been really kind and supportive and understand that these are just some lighthearted images of my dog. I'm glad folks enjoy them. They are a pause to my day, I'm always smiling when I'm photographing her. I do get some notes from time to time saying the work isn't art or that I'm ripping off Wegman. I don't feel much like responding to comments like that, funny how some images of my dog gets folks stirred up. But if I did write back, I'd just ask if they'd want to meet up and break some bread, maybe they could pet Maddie. I did daydream the other day that MoMA sold off their Wegman collection to buy a few Maddie prints. That's actually not true, the daydreaming part.
I'm also really grateful for Maddie, she is the reason I'm going to be able to finish my project. I've been driving too much, putting too many miles on, but it was so hard not to drive everywhere. This is such a unique opportunity I have. But thankfully, some folks out there liked her images and bought prints. All of the money from that is going right into This Wild Idea to help me finish it.
What is your favorite picture and/or situation you guys have found yourselves in?
My favorite moment was in Carol Stream, IL. I was visiting my sister, she isn't much of a dog person and she walked into the kitchen as I was putting Maddie in her freezer. Ha! My favorite image is a recent one from Milwaukee. I was driving around the city, looking for a spot to photograph Maddie and a little scene emerged. Snow on the ground, a no parking sign and these great pipes with a chain through them. The best part is a fella that worked at the plant came out the door and was like "What the hell?" and started laughing. It was nice.
So you adopted Maddie about a year ago; was this before you'd started on This Wild Idea? Were you looking for a travel companion when you adopted her, or did you start looking for a dog on a whim?
I was blessed with some freelance work at Amazon before I started this project. It's cool looking back now how important that was. My studio manager there was this awesome fella. He's a fantastic hunter and is great with dogs. He's helped me train Maddie. When I left there she would sit and come on command. I'm pretty thankful for him. I wasn't much of a dog lover growing up; we never had them around, but I dated a girl out in Idaho and she had a pretty rad dog. That got me stirred up about dogs and I started thinking about the ones I'd see around when I was spending summers on my Grandparent's farm. That got me interested in Southern hunting dogs again.
In working on This Wild Idea, I know the premise is to meet someone new every day and tell their story, but generally how much ground do you cover in a day or a week?
I did the math here recently and I'm averaging 125 miles a day. I suppose it doesn't seem like much, but doing that everyday for 7 months has been hard and beautiful.
How is Maddie on the road? That's a lot of hours logged driving, is she a good sport about it?
Maddie has come to love the road. She jams her nose into the air vent and is along for the ride.
For more from Theron and Maddie, make sure to buy your tickets for this year's Paws Gala at www.pawsforthecause.ca.
Follow Laura Serra on Twitter: www.twitter.com/pawsforthecause