Founded in 1891 by Charles Cruft, Crufts is more than just a dog show. Crufts is a four day canine extravaganza that celebrates the best in pedigree pups from across the world. It’s also a lifestyle choice for many of the people who will gather over the period, with their dogs, to compete after years of training. Some 27,000 dogs attend the show mingling and mixing with other dogs, some of whom will battle it out for the prestigious ‘Best In Show’ title.
No dog just arrives at Crufts unprepared. The dogs are honed, washed, brushed, combed, trimmed and in some cases painted, with the utmost care by their proud owners. The aesthetic relationship shared between dog and dog’s best friend is never played out in such sharp relief with more strange synchronicity than at Crufts. The duality of owner and hound is as hypnotic as the agility contests the competition dogs compete in; shuffling through tunnels and leaping over hurdles with both gusto and grace.
We headed to The NEC Birmingham and went backstage with photographer-turned-Crufts enthusiast Dexter Lander to lift the veil on the world’s biggest dog show and get up close and personal with the grooming process.
“In all honesty I’ve always been more of a cat person,” explained Lander, “but was excited to see the pageantry of it all. I was excited to be shooting at a convention. I’ve done it before and it’s a playground for photographers. It’s a bit like a commercial theme park. People there are so excited and willing to be photographed and are up for anything in the name of their brand.”
Lander was surprised to find that the dogs were just as keen sitters as their owners: “I went thinking I was going to be more interested in photographing the owners but once I started I found I was way more focused on the dogs. They were so responsive and well trained you could they almost felt like human subjects. Each felt individual and with their own attitude and style. It felt as if the personality and enigmatic presence of the dogs seemed so entwined with that of the owners that their extravagant yet all so familiar human beauty regimes made total sense." In fact, he found the dogs were so well "trained that they almost felt like human subjects.” One such subject being the smiling white fluffy poodle who caught Lander’s eye not least because it appears as though “she’s giving an interview into a hair brush while seated in a little leopard print pram. That’s about as glam as it gets.” Browse the best in shows below.