Book ReviewYou want, nay need, this book. And so do at least five people you know. It’s (almost) as good as a pile of husky puppies. Born to Run: Athletes of the Iditarod is a must for any animal-lover. Award-winning photographer Albert Lewis…the Alaskan Iditarod dogsled race…for those who feel a certain something special for canines, this beautiful, recently released coffee table book will shine as a favorite.
An Alaskan Transplant with Preconceived Notions
Lewis, proud owner of a puggle named Komet and a Fox Terrier named Indie and a relatively recent Anchorage transplant, says he naively avoided the Iditarod for the first couple of years following his move from Lake Tahoe, California. He changed his mind after visiting the race’s 2012 Ceremonial Start on Fourth Ave.
“I had negative views on the Iditarod because I was under the misconception that the dogs were mistreated. But when I finally went to see the start of the 2012 race, I knew right away that wasn’t the case. Meeting the dogs—on some 66 teams stretched over three miles—was so special. I petted the dogs and could see how happy and excited they were, how much their mushers cared for them. The dogs had a job to do and really wanted to do it! They were ready to go! It made me a little teary-eyed and completely changed my perceptions of the sport. I wanted to share what I saw, especially with other people who still think the same way I once did,” Lewis said in a recent interview.
Lewis went home that night and began researching books on the Iditarod. He found many written about musher experiences on the trail and found some that read like documentaries, describing the particulars of dog sledding. Lewis decided to use his artistic talents for a new kind of Iditarod-themed book.
“I use a clean, simple palette and feel in my photography and focus on the subject rather than the surroundings. I really wanted to capture the athleticism and personalities of the dogs,” Lewis explained.
Fashion Meets Function
With a background in fashion photography and more than 20 years working with Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, Target and The North Face (to name a few)—as well as experience in family portraits, weddings, and destination events—perhaps dogs naturally round out Lewis’ already impressive professional portfolio.
To help finance the book, Lewis used Kickstarter, a website focused on helping artists generate funding. He met his initial goal of $12,000 in only six days and more than doubled his funding within six weeks. Lewis will donate a portion of the book proceeds to the Iditarod’s Veterinarian Care Foundation, which provides care to dogs during the 1000 mile race.
Meeting the Mushers
Initially, the mushers Lewis reached out to through email were apprehensive.
“There was some trepidation, but mushers began talking and reassuring others through a Facebook page where I was posting some teaser shots. Before I knew it I had twenty-five shoots scheduled with more calling - even all the way from Norway and Canada. Once I started, I had two-and-a-half months until taking the book to press. I shot nonstop, visiting 36 kennels scattered over thousands of Alaska's backroads, which made logistics challenging. I became so passionate, I would spend about twenty hours editing after each session,“ Lewis said.
Lights, Camera, Action!
Lewis arrived at kennels with minimal equipment for a pop-up studio. His kit included a four-foot-high portable backdrop, background stand, and three vinyl backgrounds, three lights, his camera, and a handful of squeaky toys, which helped turn a dog’s attention to the camera.
“To get the lighting just right, I had help from a stuffed animal dog that I won at a carnival a few years back, named 'Dummy,' that is about the same size." Albert's assistant and the Zen-like mushers were always standing by to gently coax puppies back onto the paper or help engage shy dogs when necessary, explained Lewis.
Lewis asked mushers to choose dogs that might have interesting facial characteristics, famous dogs, but, above all, Lewis hoped for well-behaved dogs that would pose for the camera.
“They were all loveable dogs,” said Lewis. “I love dogs no matter what they do. I couldn’t get enough and wanted to take them all home with me! The takeaway from working with these dogs and their mushers is all happy. The mushers love their dogs, the dogs love their jobs (and there are many different kennel jobs), and the retirees love the couch!”
In the end, Lewis’ book is full of warm, fuzzy goodness. Each page contains a wonderful portrait and adjacent, the dog’s name, gender, team position (including yard clown), and number of race miles. Musher-provided doggie tidbits often expand on personality or stats. Insights and equally wonderful photos of the mushers adorn the back few pages.
Look for Lewis and his book at this year’s Iditarod; a 2014 calendar will be available next summer. Fingers crossed for volume 2. Meanwhile, Lewis plans to explore photographing other working dog groups as well as shelter and rescue dogs.—Marcy Davis
To order a copy of Lewis’ book visit http://www.seespotrun.com
Visit the Born to Run: Athletes of the Iditarod Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/BornToRunathletesoftheiditarod