"Mute: the silence of dogs in cars," a photo series by Martin Usborne


Photographer Martin Usborne has a wonderful project titled Mute: the silence of dogs in cars. Most of the images were taken at night. Above, a piece from the series titled "Peggy."

Usborne writes:

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. It seems trivial now but 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. Its muteness terrified me.

Read the rest of his story here, with more photos. You can purchase prints here. (thanks, Andrea James!)


  1. I’m not sure I “get it”. In all the photo’s it is dark and often raining – clearly there is no danger of heat. The collection text indicates an attempt to project the emotions of a young child onto a mature animal, which is dubious at best. The dogs look quite calm – mine look like that laying in the house when I’ve been home for hours and we’ve just taken a walk.
    The names on the photo’s also suggest the photographer new the animals and staged the photos, which (given the attempt at emotional projection) seems vaguely exploitative.
    Overall, I’m a bit offended, but not (I think) in the way the artist intended.

  2. :( :( :( :(

    This might be one of the saddest photo series ever. Poor dogs. I just want to hug all of them.

    I can has happy-dog chaser?

    Actually, you know what, here is a happy-dog chaser. I know that dog personally and can guarantee that he is, indeed, that happy all the time.

    1. Caroline,
      I’ll be damned if that dog does not look exactly like the aforementioned muffin!!!
      She smiles all the time. . . but she still doesn’t want any anyone coming near her car.

  3. I’m more usually terrified by the loud ones that wait till I get out of the car. Especially when they are in an SUV with tinted windows and it’s dark. Talk about giving you a heart attack. And it’s usually a small dog as well.

    Maybe I’m weird, but I never had a problem being alone. I don’t ever remember thinking if anyone was going to come back for me. I was usually busy having conversations with my imaginary friends or myself…..

    1. I once witnessed a woman get fairly seriously injured when she tripped over a curb after being scared by a very tiny Chihuahua left in a pickup truck.

      And I as well have always enjoyed my alone time and my own devices, even as a small child.

    1. To remind them of the shame they should be feeling for leading such a privileged lifestyle, of course.

      Collective guilt has been a very lucrative marketing pitch for quite some time now. It’s especially common here on the boing. I’m surprised you’re just now noticing it.

      1. Beelzebuddy,
        I’ve got to tell you you have a point my friend.
        I almost feel that the left is so easily manipulated by the right (see James O’Keefe) because we are so practiced in manipulating each other. No one cares enough, no one does enough, every one of us are faaaailures!
        F%^*% That.
        First of all I know the photographer could not have used my dog in my car for their little emotional manipulation fest, because if they’d come that close Muffin would have threatened to eat their face.
        Secondly, this broken hearted doggy merch, is distracting us, me, from human neglect and misery. Happening. Right. Now.
        Martin Usborne, take the ear plugs out, put the camera down and go down to the State House, or call your MP. There’s shit to do.

  4. I love my dog and he loves to be with me. It breaks my hart to leave him alone at home or in the car but unfortunetly I have to go places that he can not.

  5. Brilliant, but likely staged: look at #s 1 and 13, different dogs, same car (that plum-purple color and the small white dirt marks under the window). I looked but didn’t see anything to this effect, and it’s not like he “needs” to be upfront about this, but if these are staged, the effect is lessened, for me at least, considerably: way less of a creepy documentary feel and way more of a creepy (and perhaps unethical) William Wegman feel. Would “The Silence of Dogs Placed in Cars” be a better subtitle?

    1. Looking more carefully at the site, I now see that “left in” seems to be Xeni’s addition to the title. Xeni, you might this change this, as it would seem to be inaccurate, and is rather misleading: read without the “left in” one might not imagine that these dogs were abandoned at all, and the artist seems to be playing with an ambiguity (the pictures’ suggestiveness and our response to this) that the statement that they’ve been “left,” i.e., abandoned, takes away entirely. :D

      1. Tdawwg,

        Click the Martin Usborne link and you’ll see that the title of the exhibit is “MUTE: the silence of dogs in cars”.

        1. Indeed. Hence my polite request that the rather misleading–inaccurate “left in” be stripped from the title above in Xeni’s post.

          Paratexts like titles are vital for one’s understanding of an image. Usborne’s title makes these images ambiguous, suggestive, lovely, vague: Xeni’s addition renders these abandoned dogs, and the photographs documents, which they don’t seem to be at all.

          Thanks, Antinous! :D

      2. “I was left in a car” is the first line quoted in the post. It is the fourth sentence in the post.

        1. Let me try to be as clear as I can.

          The title above of Xeni’s post is “Mute: the silence of dogs left in cars.”

          The title of Usborne’s project is “Mute: the silence of dogs in cars.”

          The two titles are different. One has “left in,” the other, not.

          My comments about paratexts etc. aside, the title as reported here on BB would seem to be inaccurate. We can have a fun discussion of the issues involving this and get all Erroll Morris-y later, but I do hope the title can be corrected! :D

          1. and? there’s also extraneous punctuation within the quotation marks.

            dick dick dick dick dick dick dick. K? thnxbai. :D

          2. let me try to be as clear as I can.

            You: “I now see that “left in” seems to be Xeni’s addition to the title. Xeni, you might this change this, as it would seem to be inaccurate, and is rather misleading: ”

            No, it is not innacurate or misleading. It is the first sentence of the artists stated intent – where the images in fact come from. The mistake is trivial, not misleading.

          3. Please check the title of the project on the artist’s website before you embarrass yourself (and attempt to insult me) further.

            And no, the comma isn’t extraneous, as it connects the two clauses of Xeni’s title: without it it would be a run-on: “a photo project . . .” modifies the main clause, which is the (incorrectly given, but still) title of the project.

            I’ll leave the “dick” untouched, thanks.

    2. “look at #s 1 and 13, different dogs, same car”

      That’s totally the same dog. I don’t doubt it’s staged, but that’s the same dog.

      Hey, at least the guy didn’t smear them in chocolate sauce and stand them up pouting on the shores of Lake Michigan or some shit, amirite?

      1. Hmmm, I think you’re right: the differences that I think I see may have a lot more to do with the expressions, the lighting, shadows, etc. Good catch, thanks!

        They’re incredibly lovely photos, however staged or not, unlike the chocolate-poo-syrup photos you’re referring to, which were exploitative and quite unlovely.

  6. I once parked my car next to a pick up in whose bed was sitting a giant wolf-hybrid dog. A great big handsome white-furred shepherd-looking beast.

    Before getting out I fumbled around a bit, picking up garbage and sticking it in a sack for disposal in the shopping center’s trash cans. I noticed that the wolf-dog was staring at me. He had a great big friendly “HI THERE!” expression. I figured he was lonely just sitting there while his boss was shopping. I waved back. He bobbed his head and looked like he was trying to get my attention, so I waved again.

    I got out. He kept staring in the car. “Huh!” I thought, “either he sees the snack cakes I left on my seat, or he’s waiting for me to get back the car.”

    I did my shopping and returned to my Civic. The wolfy dog was still staring into my car. Another shopper and I stopped to admire the big galoot. Eventually the truck’s owner showed up. “He sure seems interested in something in my car.”

    The guy rolled his eye. “Pffft! He’s looking at his reflection in your window. He thinks it’s another dog.”

  7. I used to love waiting in the car while mom or dad ran into a shop for a minute. It was a game of “how much stuff can I turn on”

    Bonus points for being a really old truck where the volume knob would actually affect the radio even if you turned the knob while the radio was off. As soon as they started it… WHAMMO

  8. Trusting your humans to come back is good and necessary thing for dogs to know.

    Since we can’t/aren’t able/don’t want to bring them everywhere being left in the car (assuming its in a safe, comfortable place) may be better than being left at home.

    Dogs ≠ people.

  9. I wish to make it illegal for photographers to make their own websites.

    I see various degrees of severity of the crime:

    For example, I would consider this page to be First Degree Webslaughter.

    Cramming everything into a tiny frame in the middle of the page: 5 years.
    Stuffing several pages of text into a little scroll area: 5 years
    Not having the links follow normal link color rules: 3 years.

    For many other photography websites, however, the punishments will be much more draconian.

    Having all images at full size next to each other horizontally, so you have to keep scrolling left: Second degree Webmurder. Minimum 25 years to life, depending on how many images there are.

    Putting up those images at some crazy resolution and then scaling them down in the HTML will get that bumped up to First Degree Webmurder. Add hard labor to that 25 to life.

    Entire site packed into a flash animation with randomly scattered and non-intuitive navigation buttons? Put into an oubliette which is then welded shut and forgotten about.

  10. Dogs aren’t humans.

    Put a human in a cage, they’re not happy. They see it as a restriction of movement.

    Put a well-adjusted dog in a cage, it feels safe. It knows all those strange people can’t get in. It knows it can protect its territory effectively.

    So, leaving a dog in a car it’s familiar with can be better than leaving it outside where it feels vulnerable. Just not in the heat, and make sure the air can get in.

    See a dog barking in a car? 9/10 it doesn’t want to get out. It wants you to keep away from its den.

  11. People who leave dogs alone shouldn’t keep dogs; it’s rather about time and resources than being good or bad.
    A dog requires 8/10 the caring a child needs, which translates in lots of time and money besides love and feelings, therefore only people who are very good at raising children, and have enough time, should consider keeping a dog.
    For those who need pets but cannot devote hours each day to them, cats are much easier to keep for being almost completely self sufficient, which of course does not mean you should get a cat and abandon it alone: a cat would suffer from loneliness as well, though less than a dog.

  12. Arrrgggghhhh! Whether these photos are staged or not is immaterial. All photos are “staged” in some manner, even journalistic and documentary photos, can be staged, framed, and are certainly edited.
    The point is not “dog safety” or “dogsploitation” The photographer is clearly trying to create a mood, and leave an impression on the viewer.

  13. Hi all, this is Martin here, the photographer. Amazing to see so many comments. thank you for looking at the images.

    Let me explain a few things..

    All the photos are staged. Not trying to hide that at all. Sorry if it looks like I am. And yes, the title is not ‘left’ in cars. The dogs were put in cars – briefly.

    I am not trying to make a comment about how we mustn’t leave dogs in cars. I am not even trying to make a comment about dogs. Nor am I trying to create a ‘real’ scene. I am trying to communicate a feeling, the feeling I had when i was a kid when I was left in a car and i was terrified, that feeling of dreamlike, depressing, beautiful alone-ness. When I was young and in that car it was sunny and bright outside – yet it felt like night time, hence the darkness of the shots.

    The shots are meant to look otherworldly, they are meant to look film-like.

    The reason I use animals – and not kids or adults – is that they bring an immediacy but also a poetry to the images. If I put a kid in a car crying it would be too obvious, too straight-on. There is a part of me, as I suspect there is in many people, that feels hard to voice. A part of me that is scared, that sometimes feels locked away, just like that young kid. That part of me feels like an animal, raw and instinctive.

    That’s why I photographed dogs in cars.

    And Bucket, you are right, I am not a web designer, but at least I don’t name myself after something to vomit into. If you are that angry about web design perhaps play with some html on your own.

    thanks all.

    1. Thank you so much, and my apologies for any upset caused by the extra words in the headline.

      1. Just be glad Bucket isn’t in charge or we wouldn’t hear from you again for at least 5 years.

        I can’t believe it took 30 comments before someone pointed out the most important thing:
        All photos are “staged” in some manner, even journalistic and documentary photos, can be staged, framed, and are certainly edited.

        Every good artist has to be selective to increase impact. The final photo you see is probably one of many similar shots taken. The simple act of choosing which photo to exhibit and which to not is by itself an act of deception (or at the very lest manipulation).

  14. I wish I’d taken a photo of the little terrier-type dog sitting in the front of a van that I parked beside in the shopping centre car park a couple of weeks ago. The dog was sitting there with a slightly glowering expression on the passenger seat of the van, as a small crowd of Maw Broon-like Springburn wifies clustered around the cab.

    “Lookit that! That’s wee doag’s loacked in that car!”
    “Thatsa f**kin’ sin, that, that wee doag could die! Doags die in hot cars you know!”
    “That’s terrible, ah’m callin’ the polis, that shouldnae be allowed”

    Meanwhile the wee dog sat there glaring at them and you could tell he was thinking “Right, you lot – one, get the hell away from my van, and two, ‘dogs die in hot cars’, is it? Dogs die in hot bloody cars? It’s -4 out there, I’ll take that chance! Hot car indeed…”

  15. Milo (dog #14, the one in the yellow FIAT 500) is my family’s dog. The photographer noticed us, the dog and our car, explained that he was doing this project and asked if he could take a picture of Milo in our car. What you don’t notice in that picture is that my sister is lying down in the back of the car out of shot- that’s the only way we could get Milo to sit still in the car!

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