I made this image, of a Circus dog trainer, in Guatemala, somewhere not far from Antigua. My friend and I, Brian Smale (a very good photographer himself) were down there studying Spanish, sometime in the early 1980s.
We spent a day hanging out at the circus, just chatting (as much as our rudimentary Spanish allowed) and taking photographs. Everyone was very friendly and just going about their day, relaxing or getting ready for the evening show. They were like a big family (many of the members were related) and they were on the road for pretty much the whole year.
I saw the dog trainer with his dogs and asked if I could return the following morning to take his portrait. "Claro que si" (of course), he replied, and so the next morning we met up. I forget his name now. He had his little troop of dogs all lined up, dressed in frilly costumes and perched on chairs.
"How cute," I thought to myself.
I rearranged them a little and had him stand behind his dogs. He had an interesting face and looked great in his suit. He held a kind of baton in his hands.
It was a moody, cloudy day—the kind I really like for making portraits. The light is soft and full and the skies dramatic. However, I thought the image needed more direct light and wanted to use a flash. I had a small one with me but didn't want to use it "on camera" as that would made the image too flat. I wanted to add the light from the side but didn't have a stand with me. One of the circus clowns was close-by and also happened to be "diminutive", so I asked if he would hold the flash for me and he agreed.
We were ready. The dog trainer's face suddenly took on a very imperious look. The dogs looked adorable. They were all in line, more or less, except the one closest to me who was (just like John Lennon on the Abbey Road album cover, as I later thought) turned in the other direction. I took a picture. The trainer's eyes remained frozen in my direction. The dogs didn't move. I asked the trainer if he could have that one dog turn in the same direction as the others. He nodded "Si" back at me. I looked around at the little clown holding the flash. I smiled at him and wished someone was taking a photograph of this scene. :-)
Just as I was about to take the second photograph the trainer whipped his wooden baton at the dog who was still looking in the wrong direction. The flash triggered, but the little dog still didn't move. I was aghast: "No, no—por favor!", I said to the trainer. I already had mixed emotions about circuses and the way the animals were treated and now here I was kind of making things worse. He looked back at me with no emotion.
So I pressed the shutter again and took another photo. The dogs all remained erect on two feet, their front paws aloft. The dog at the end still remained out of sync. Suddenly, the trainer took another swipe at the "rebellious" dog; not too hard, but firmly enough. I didn't need the photo that badly.
"Ya basta," I said. "Enough!". Then: "Gracias". We were done. I had taken three photographs in total. The trainer's face remained placid. The clown smiled at me and the dogs still didn't move. Over the years many people have loved and or commented on this photograph. I can still remember it—the stern trainer, the little clown who held my flash and that cute little "disobedient" dog—like it was yesterday.