Los Angeles Times, Calander Section, May 19, 2006

When dogs are in hot pursuit
John Divola's photographs of dogs at Patricia Faure Gallery are surprising and funny. And more.

By Christopher Knight, Times Staff Writer

You don't need to own a pet to be entranced by John Divola's photographs of dogs. But having a car might help.

The grainy, large-scale black-and-white prints he shot in the desert between 1996 and 2001 were made by sticking his camera-wielding arm out the window of his pickup truck whenever a dog began to chase the passing vehicle and snapping away blindly with high-speed film. Their ancestry is in Eadweard Muybridge's 19th century scientific photographs of animal locomotion, but without the sober veneer of orderliness.

Dogs scamper and bound in the photographs at Patricia Faure Gallery, and the scenery smears and tilts. Sometimes the dog is in the middle distance and sometimes up close. Always there's a sense that he's running as if his very life depended on it — not freely and with exuberant abandon but with the blinkered focus of compulsivity.

Divola's pictures freeze commonplace moments — ones usually experienced as a jumbled commotion from within a moving conveyance. The blurred, animated or off-kilter results, several of which were included in Divola's eccentric 2004 book, "Dogs Chasing My Car in the Desert," are surprising and funny.Soon, however, the grin fades. The images turn, becoming oddly touching.

Anyone who drives has at one time or another been chased by a dog. It's nerve-racking, because tragedy looms. But the herding instinct runs deep — and in the wide-open spaces of the desert, the absence of animal herds from most of modern civilization is obvious. The ramshackle raggedness of the barren scenery so prominent in Divola's photographs italicizes the point.

The animal chases the speeding machine because it's as close as he can get to what nature intended and man obliterated. Suddenly the desert scenery fills with an aura of obsolescence, and poignancy arises. So does a shred of panic. It comes from recognizing the struggle involved in restraining one's own irrational compulsions — those seemingly hard-wired responses to stimuli that can wreak havoc on life.

In one of Divola's most wrenching pictures, a black dog at the bottom left leaps straight for the camera. The ground plane tilts up at an angle, like a tabletop being violently overturned. Fido's fangs are bared and his eyes burn.

But his demeanor is not so simple. Part fury, part delirium, with a mix of sheer bewilderment thrown in for good measure, it's as if the dog has marshaled every ounce of muscle to keep from sliding out of the frame and into oblivion. Once registered, that look will break your heart.

Patricia Faure Gallery, Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 449-1479, through May 27. Closed Sundays and Mondays. www.patriciafauregallery.com