During the last few years, I became very good friends with Momo, the owner of an old fashioned bar on the corner of my street. Mohand is in his fifties but has two hundred years worth of stories. Two years ago, during a night where Momo told me how he made a fortune and how he lost it instantly, I heard a barking from the basement of the bar. This night, Momo introduced me to his dog, a muscled Malinois named Altesse (means King in French I think). He then explained to me all night long his passion for the dressing and the attack dogs, a rare fact for an immigrate born and raised in Kabylie, in the north of Algeria.
During Spring, he asked me if I was interested to come with him to assist at the Elementary French Championship in Elbeuf in Normandia. I naturally answered yes, profiting of the occasion to take some pictures.
During the journey from Paris, Momo didn’t feel at ease. As we’re driving on the highway, he announced me that if Altesse was at the back seat of the car, it was not to compete but to find him an adoptive father. He explained how he was sick and was becoming impossible to take care of his dog as he’d like, hearing his constant barking in the basement broke his heart.
This news filled me with sadness, it completely changed my mood and outlook on the photo documentary ‘’passion of dog training’’ that I wanted to do. Once we were there, I decided against what I’d originally planned to photograph, it would be easy to just document people, with their weird-incredible faces and their dogs. I decided to focus on the strong, affective relationships which gravitate above this violent show.
Wives, kids, amongst many other participants are there to support them during their passage of twenty minutes. Everything is extremely codified, each stage is noted scrupulously. The behaviour of the dog is meticulously analysed to evaluate the sportive aptitudes, dressing and tracking skills and of course their ability to attack.
The attack men with their large protective clothes spend their days being bitten, testing the dogs and their behaviour in front of sticks and guns. In front of young kids that don’t look very scared…
There is a constant contrast between the affective complicity of the dog handler and his dog, the severity of their relationship, the violence of the show and this particular family atmosphere. At the end of the day, Momo came to me to announce that he finally found someone to take care of Altesse. He knows dogs and has a big garden. It’s very moving to see a man like him, after all the hard things that he passes through during his life, crying in front of you.
We spend the end of the day in the middle of a field with Altesse. I was trying to capture with modesty their last moments together. When we went back to Paris, in the car, Momo was even more talkative than usual, maybe as to think constantly at something else.
[This article was originally published on JRNL Magazine, a now closed publication from our Editor James Wrigley.]