Winnie Au didn’t expect to become a dog photographer. But after she published some portraits of her roommate’s dog early in her photography career, she gained a reputation for her ability to capture a pooch’s personality in a single shot, even as she began doing human portraits as well for advertisements and magazines.
Now, Au has published a new personal photo project called Cone of Shame that depicts different types of dogs reclaiming the those terrible plastic cones that pets have to wear after a medical procedure. In Au’s photos, the dogs each wear a distinct, fabulous cone that was designed by costume and set designer Marie-Yan Morvan. One gray poodle wears a cone that looks like it was made of cut-up foam; a mini pinscher models a mottled pink and purple cone that’s reminiscent of the galaxy. A majestic sheepdog has a pink spongy cone, while a white fluffy samoyed showcases a cone of straws that looks more like an extension of her mane. Perhaps the funniest photo depicts a very shaggy komondor with an equally shaggy orange cone, which the dog wears like a crown.
To find her subjects, Au cast a wide net, reaching out to her network via email, posting on social media, and even putting posters up in dog parks in New York, where she’s based. For more distinct breeds, like the komondor, she went through an animal talent agency. She also had an archive of people who were interested in her photographing their pets. “Once people know you’re a dog photographer, they just start emailing you [pictures of] dogs,” she says. She screened dozens of eager owners to find the 13 dogs that made the cut.
Deciding which dogs to include in the project was a mix of finding pups that were comfortable wearing a cone, and were somewhat photogenic. “It’s similar to human casting, which sounds weird, but you’re looking for a unique face and shape, and someone that’s kind of striking in front of the camera,” Au says. “I just looked for faces that you haven’t seen before or that give a lot of emotion.”
Each photograph took between one and two hours in the studio; dogs are not the most cooperative subjects. “They’re kind of like babies or toddlers, which I’ve also photographed,” Au says. “Some of them are really fine with it, and other times they want to go outside and play, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”
That was the issue with Lux the bulldog, who was more interested in running around the studio rather than sitting still. Au says she only managed to get a single shot of his face during the entire shoot, and eventually she settled for putting treats on the ground for him to munch on. The final image she chose showcases his dark body, which contrast with the gold metallic cone he wears.
Other dogs didn’t have enough energy. A Weimaraner named Kyrie kept falling asleep as Au was taking her picture–though for the final image Kyrie managed to keep her eyes open while modeling her spongy cone. “She was falling asleep while sitting and it just looks really funny,” Au says. “I fall asleep while sitting too sometimes, but I don’t look as cute.”
Au hopes that the series can reclaim the cone of shame, while also reminding people of their pets’ medical needs. Her previous dog had throat cancer, and Au says that while she had pet insurance, it was still expensive and, of course, devastating. A portion of the proceeds from the series–available online for $65 per photograph–will go to a local organization called Animal Haven‘s Recovery Road Fund to pay for rescue dogs’ medical costs.