A Chekhovian Photo Shoot with Boo, the World’s Cutest Dog
When I think about Boo I think about Chekhov—specifically, his short story, The Lady with the Dog.
But, first—for those new to Boo: Chronicle Books published Boo’s first book this fall, Boo, The Life of the World’s Cutest Dog. He has more than 2.5 million Facebook fans, and his status updates, ranging from “I would be a great q-tip. For giants” to “Naked Wednesday is back. Please celebrate responsibly” to “If I must be squished by someone, let it be Buddy” can receive as many as 60,000 “likes.” Boo is not just liked—Boo is loved. So is the lady with the dog, but that is not why I read Chekhov’s short story before a recent photo shoot with Boo. It is because of this—the story’s first paragraph:
It was said that a new person had appeared on the sea-front: a lady with a little dog. Dmitri Dmitritch Gurov, who had by then been a fortnight at Yalta, and so was fairly at home there, had begun to take an interest in new arrivals. Sitting in Verney’s pavilion, he saw, walking on the sea-front, a fair-haired young lady of medium height, wearing a béret; a white Pomeranian dog was running behind her.
(Photos by Naomi Kirsten)
Before attempting to connect the World’s Cutest Dog and Chekhov, a short story and a photo shoot, some context: This photo shoot was for a project we are developing here at Chronicle. Boo will appear in a paper doll set, complete with customized clothes. The plan was to get a “naked” photo of Boo that could be used to create the doll. For one usable shot, we reserved four hours. We needed Boo to stand at just the right angle. This would take time.
For our early project meetings, Senior Designer Amy Achaibou mocked up this paper doll prototype from existing photography.
Amy’s notes on the doll we are developing, which informed the photo shoot.
It may seem like a stretch to link Boo and Chekhov, but since Chekhov’s literature, from his short stories to his plays, captures something about the human experience and then transcends that experience, I felt that it was a worthy exercise to attend the photo shoot with a Chekhovian eye.
For this caption, a line from Checkov’s play, The Three Sisters: “And the meaning of all this is…?”
Chekhov’s “The Lady with the Dog,” begins with a young woman at a seaside resort accompanied by her dog, a Pomeranian. Perhaps because she is alone and this makes people uneasy, she comes to be known as the “lady with the little dog” rather than by her name (Anna).
Buddy watching Boo.
Amy and photographer Gretchen LeMaistre review a shot of Boo.
Boo checking on the status of the latest shot.
The few instances that the dog is invoked in the story, it is all action—running, growling (although it “doesn’t bite,” Anna says, blushing), and, later, following someone around when one of the characters is paralyzed by indecision. There are tears in this story—there is pain. The Pomeranian, however, is exempt from the drama. The dog is the story’s one truly free character—a reminder that there is another way to live—a less complicated way.
Amy and Buddy. Also: Bliss.
Buddy is ready for his close-up.
I know that it doesn’t take a Chekhov short story to highlight the value of a dog’s company. But I liked having the story in mind as the dogs took center stage at the shoot. We were there to get a photo of Boo and Buddy, and some sort of future was inevitably built into the scene, as it always is—an I hope this turns out OK! Then there was tomorrow (Monday), project meetings, flap copy I needed to write—all that goes into a project’s development. It is easy to get caught up in a cascade of tomorrows and to-do lists. And then, as if to keep that cascade in check, there was Boo and Buddy, running around the studio, exploring corners, looking expectant and curious and present. When I think back to that Sunday, one word comes to mind: Joy.
In Chekhov’s stories and plays, joy may not be easily attained, but it is often there, waiting in the wings, lurking somewhere down the line, poised to be seized if only the characters could have the requisite revelations. And even when those revelations occur and a beam of awareness breaks through, a sense exists that an even deeper awareness is possible. There always seems to be more—more to experience, more to know, more to live, and that might happen after the curtain falls or beyond the story’s last page.
At one point, it became clear that all Boo wanted was a cozy, enclosed space to hunker down for a bit. He was happily accommodated.
Here are the last lines of “The Lady with the Dog.” These lines do not give the plot away, and they do not resolve the conflict at the story’s end. More importantly, these last lines do not have anything to do with the dog:
And it seemed as though in a little while the solution would be found, and then a new and splendid life would begin; and it was clear to both of them that they had still a long, long road before them, and that the most complicated and difficult part of it was only just beginning.
The Pomeranian that appears in the story’s first paragraph is nowhere to be seen. By the last pages, the dog is somewhere else—all but forgotten. It is just the humans and their emotions and a “long, long road” ahead.
I like to imagine that the dog is living a “new and splendid life” already, just like Boo.
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