I'm an English major, member of the Dog Writers Association of America, and big fan of animal rescue, so my heart did cartwheels when I heard about "Poetic Dogs." The project by Italian photographer Dan Bannino features shelter dogs as authors ranging from William Shakespeare to Mark Twain to Ernest Hemingway, and raises money for the animal shelter near Turin, Italy, from which Bannino adopted his dog, Rothko.
"The goal is to feature as many wonderful rescued dogs as possible, to show that adoption is saving a life," Bannino said. "My new best friend and his love served as my motivation for starting this series ... all of them are my personal favorite writers, and after spending a little time around the kennel I sort of started to associate the dogs with them: the moves, the eyes, the way they were and the way they interacted had a very important role in choosing who was who."
For example, Bannino associates Ernest Hemingway with toughness, so when he got to know a proud, tough dog named Leone, it seemed a perfect match.
Gustavo, a dog who was tied to a tree and left without food or water for several days, was skinny and silent, so he reminded Bannino of William S. Burroughs.
Sometimes Bannino was inspired by a dog's physical attributes. Cap, a dog found wandering by a river, has a nose that reminded Bannino of Dante Alighieri's profile.
Bannino spent months photographing the 19 stars of "Poetic Dogs" (13 of them have already been adopted!). To reduce their stress, he didn't use a flash, and spent hours with each dog before shooting.
"I wanted to make sure that they were having fun," he said. "I wanted them to associate the camera with a great and playful activity."
He not only had to recreate costumes and scenes, but wait for his models to have the right expressions. His timing was impeccable, as shown by the photo of 14-year-old Wall Street as Charles Bukowski.
"I've realized how dogs are similar to writers: speaking through their expressions, sounds and movements, they're telling you everything while saying nothing, just like an author would do with his words in a fine poem," Bannino said.
For instance, Nespola's "funny yet elegant ways" communicated a similarity to humorist Mark Twain.
"If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and man." - Mark Twain
And Sorriso's serious attitude and deep humanity reminded Bannino of British poet Edith Sitwell.
Bannino was touched that while most of the "Poetic Dogs" endured hunger, sickness and loneliness before being rescued, they are still "giving their blessings to every human being they see," he said.
"That's what I learned: to be patient and give everyone another chance. Compassion, empathy, being grateful - every day is a huge gift, and the smallest smile can change somebody's day, even life," Bannino said. "Just like Rothko and all his amazing friends did with me."
Here are more incredible photos from the "Poetic Dogs" series:
Molecula as Oscar Wilde
Breed as Leo Tolstoy
Clochard as James Baldwin
Biscuit and Crumb as The Brothers Grimm
Valentino as Charles Baudelaire
Blue as Edgar Allen Poe
Cesara as Emily Dickinson
Shelley as James Joyce
Girella as Joseph Conrad
Tanino as Miguel de Cervantes
Rothko as William Shakespeare
Rothko as the beloved pet of Dan Bannino