By Milan Aleksic


Mihailo Vasiljevic has given up on the ambition of presenting his dog in the usual light – as man’s best friend, as a cuddly creature that understands everything and sometimes even resembles man, becoming an extension of his master’s personality.

There is no doubt that, due to their alertness, vigilance and guarding instinct, dogs have been used to help herd sheep for a long time now, which, according to some interpretations, symbolically qualifies them as being shepherds who care for the flock of believers. And they are so loyal to their masters that, as stated in the Aberdeen Bestiary, two hundred dogs broke through the enemy lines and freed King Garamentes from exile and imprisonment.

There are many cases of dogs refusing food after their master’s death, and there is written evidence of a dog that ended its life by throwing itself into the fire where its master was being burnt at the stake. Many people also believe that a dog can heal a wound by licking it, and that dogs are symbolic guardians of the gates of the afterlife, while some African and American legends tell us that dogs are the ancestors of humans. They are also credited with the discovery of fire.

By following and photographing his own dog in a number of different situations, Mihailo Vasiljevic has doubtless concluded that photography is more of a tool for investigation than it is for mere registration. Aware of the fact that each series of photographs, along with being about a certain topic, is also about photography itself, Mihailo pays homage to the technology he uses for creating images, and transfers himself to a position in which, like the audience, he becomes the interpreter of his own research and of the heritage of his favourite medium.

After years of work on creating a picture book about his dog, the author has deduced that there is much more to these creatures than is usually assumed.

Some peoples believe that dogs have fifty-two traits, half of which are sacred, half accursed. Yet, others describe their enemies by saying that they attack like a pack of dogs, and for others, one of the harshest penalties is throwing a man to a pack of dogs to tear him apart.

For example, a typical dog trait is that they tend to eat what they have thrown up, whereby they are identified with those who, after making their confession, continue with humiliation and old sins. It is known that dogs are inclined to let drop a piece of meat from their mouth in order to catch its reflection when it appears on the smooth surface of a river, indicating, by some interpretations, the greediness of those who lose what they have by pursuing the illusion that only exists in a mirror image.

The dog is also known as a synonym for male prostitution, which makes it unfit for sacrifice to God.

The photographs from this series Creatures open up a number of other possibilities for interpretations, and they also remind us that there is without doubt an abundance of interesting phenomena around us that we have failed to notice because, as usual, we have not looked carefully enough.

Dogs have been the subject of many contemporary artists, among whom, along with Mihailo Vasiljevic, can be included Andy Warhol, David Hockney, Roy Lichtenstein, Alex Katz and William Wegman. It is confidently stated in one review referring to the place of dogs in art history, that “dogs will no doubt continue to ‘flourish’ in art and in the future”.

This is probably because, regardless of what art is about, art is also always about art itself.


Milan Aleksić, “Bestijarijum”, in catalogue for the exhibition “Stvorenje”, Kulturni centar Beograda, Beograd, 2006; translation K. Radovic/J. Boulting

Milan Aleksic is a photographer and professor at The Faculty of Philology and Arts, Kragujevac, NOVA Academy of Arts, Belgrade and Faculty of Technical Sciences, Novi Sad.

© Milan Aleksic

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