Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Cindy, Kirby & Buster and Barney Pringle

Who is in the photo at right?

In the photo, left to right: Barney Pringle, Kirby Pringle, Buster Pringle and Cindy Pringle on coffee break in their new Dogtown Artworks Gallery & Studio in Tuscola, Ill.

We are fine art photographers. We take photos of our dogs, Buster and Barney, and turn them into "dog people" — dogs with humanlike bodies. We also take photos of other people's dogs and turn them into dog people, too. We've been professional photographers for 20 years and have specialized in creating dog people for the past 8 years. We just opened a new gallery and photo studio in Tuscola, Ill., and are working on our third book that features the characters Earl Barker (Buster) and his wife, Pearl Barker (Barney). Our first book, Happy Tails: Earl and Pearl on the Farm came out in 2006 and our second book, Happy Tails: The Call of Nature, came out in 2008. We sell prints from our two books and also "stand alone" photos, along with note cards.

Our two dogs are Buster (a white boxer, although he may have some American bulldog in him), 11 1/2 years old, and Barney (a boxer mix), 10 1/2. Both are neutered males and both are rescue dogs.

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

We're on coffee break at our new gallery and photo studio in Tuscola, Ill. You would think with a name like Tuscola (Arcola is 9 miles south — really), that we should be drinking Pepsi-Cola or Coca-Cola or Royal Crown Cola. Our dogs are always with us in the gallery and customers' well-behaved pets are welcome, too. We're in a hidden location, but we have a park right across the street, so it works out well for taking a walk after lunch.

What's brewing?

We always buy the Eight O'Clock 100 percent Columbian Coffee. It goes in our 15-year-old drip coffee maker. Eight O'Clock is good stuff for not a lot of money. Consumer Reports always recommends it, so what's good enough for Consumer Reports is good enough for us.

Any goodies to go with the coffee?

Oh yeah. Donuts usually. We like the big-calorie daddies, Entemann's chocolate donuts. The Casey's General Store (a chain of Midwestern convenience stores) has pretty good donuts, too. That's where we buy a box of day-old donuts on the cheap.

Any treat for Buster and Barney on this occasion?

They get a dog biscuit on our coffee breaks.

How did they come to be united with you?

We adopted Barney after our first boxer, Bobo, passed away. Our veterinarian took in a bunch of mistreated puppies and Barney was one of them. We adopted Buster about a year later. We found him at a small town in southern Illinois. His owner moved into a rental house that did not allow pets, so she just set him loose. He had been a street dog for 18 months when we saw him standing in front of a cafe with a couple of kids on bicycle feeding him a candy bar. Buster, who was not fixed at the time, also had an adoring harem of female dogs around him. We made inquiries, contacted the owner, and then bought him from her.

How did they get their names?

Barney just looked like a Barney. He looked sort of like Barney Fife. Buster's name was originally Chauncey. We didn't like that name and rechristened him Buster. Again, he just looked like a Buster.

How many of your photographs have you created featuring Buster and Barney? Do you have a favorite?

We've done about 150 photos that feature Buster and Barney and the list keeps growing. Kirby's favorite is "The Long Road Home" [photo, above left], it's got a classic John Steinbeck, dustbowl feel to it. It's our Dogs of Wrath tribute. Cindy's favorite is "His 'N' Hers" [photo, right] because of the looks on Buster's and Barney's faces and the fun details in the shot.

Is there a photo of Buster and Barney playing poker (or does that question betray my lack of imagination)?

We have people request that photo all the time, especially at art fairs. It is actually on our "to-do list," but we haven't gotten around to it. Part of it is because we want to do an original interpretation and the other part is that we haven't found a cool old pool hall in central Illinois that we can use for the shot.

What's an ordinary day like for your dogs?

They are your average dogs in almost every respect. They eat, they sleep and then go do their business. They differ from other dogs in one way: both are really good at posing for photographs. Our photo sessions last about 15 minutes and we use dog treats to get them to look a certain way or in a certain direction. We also use squeaky toys, harmonicas and cat-calls. Our dogs are very food motivated and both have very expressive eyes — great for our type of photography.

Where is your dogs' favorite place to go for walk?

Lake Shelbyville, a big lake in central Illinois. They both like to walk along the water and we do, too. We go there about every weekend. Our goal is to live near a large body of water.

Who are Buster and Barney's best pet-pals?

Buster and Barney are each other's best pals. We're all good pals.

What's each dog's best quality?

Buster's name should be Happy because he is ALWAYS happy and easy-going (except around mice, strange dogs and his bowl of dog food). Barney is nervous and shy, and doesn't really have a boxer personality. But he gives us those perfect "concerned" looks for our photos.

What's each dog's proudest moment so far? The most embarrassing?

Buster is quite the mouser. One time he caught a mouse in the garage and WOULD NOT let go. Cindy could not pry it away from him. So he rode in the car to the local post office, and then back home, with a mouse dangling from his muzzle the whole time [photo, above left]. He was very proud of his catch. He doesn't eat the mice he catches. He just likes to hold them in his muzzle.

Barney, on the other hand, loves corn. Our house is surrounded by tall fields of corn and Barney absolutely loves to run into the field, pull up the whole stalk, run back home, remove the ear from the stalk and then husk the ear of corn. It's fun to watch. He would eat the entire ear of corn if we let him, but we take it away before he gets that far.

Buster's most embarrassing moment was when he got sprayed by a skunk on Christmas day. Guests thought we were having Indian food for the meal, but it was just Buster stink.

Barney's most embarrassing moment was when Cindy was taking photographs outside and Barney was wearing a black sweater, big curly wig and a pearl necklace [photo right]. The UPS man pulled into the driveway and Barney went running to greet the driver, forgetting that he was still wearing his sweater, wig and necklace. We think this is the first time a UPS driver has been greeted by a dog in drag.

Visit the website for Dogtown Artworks Gallery & Studio. View sample pages from Happy Tails: Earl and Pearl on the Farm and Happy Tails: The Call of Nature.

--Marshal Zeringue