On a Greenwich Village street corner, photographer Elias Weiss Friedman was having trouble getting J Lo’s attention. Her eyes darted restlessly and she wouldn’t stand still. “She’s a real bitch,” said the young man who accompanied her. “She hates cameras.” J Lo was a slender, seven-year-old white Bull Terrier. Finally, after a couple of “C’mon mama, sit down mama”s, she relented and posed.
Friedman, a 26-year-old Williamsburger who will soon move to the East Village, is the creator of The Dogist, a collection of bright and luminous canine portraits focusing, literally, on puppie-dog eyes. “That’s my signature: [eyes are] the way we connect with people,” he explained during a recent dog hunt in the West Village.
The Philadelphia native’s signature style is why Buzzfeed dubbed him the four-legged version of The Sartorialist. His site, in addition to its direct traffic, has a quarter of a million followers on Instagram and over 23,000 followers on Facebook.“The Dogist is brilliant. It’s one of those ideas where I think to myself and wonder how the hell nobody else did it,” said Friedman’s friend, Pasquale D’Silva. The 25-year-old animator and creative director helped Friedman produce “Barking at Dogs,” a web series in which they would bark at dogs in order to elicit a response. “He’s taken [The Dogist] past the level anybody would take a project like this.”
The project emerged a year ago during a trip to Vienna. Friedman had taken a picture of a boxer with his iPhone. As soon as he posted it on Instagram, he got more “likes” for it than for all his other pictures combined.
Friedman is not a professionally trained photographer: after getting a BA in Psychology from Boston University, he worked for a major brand strategy agency for three years. But an aptitude for portraiture runs in the family: he credits yearly portraits his father shot of him and his siblings in their family house as his main inspiration. The house had a dark room, where he would experiment with photography.
Friedman’s project demands selectivity. “I am running a show, so if I stopped every dog it would all be white and fluffy dogs,” he said after running into the umpteenth fluffy exemplar.
To make the cut, his subjects must either have a particular beauty or some sort of goofiness.
Friedman wears working pants, knee pads and trekking shoes while on duty, and he’s extremely focused and dedicated. “Anyone who hangs out with Elias knows that one second you are in a conversation with him and, all of a sudden, there is no response,” said Todd Bradley, 26, creative director and Friedman’s roommate since 2010. “That’s when you look back and see he has darted across the street and is on one knee with a tennis ball getting a perfect shot of a Viszla.”
Indeed that very thing happened during our interview, with this group on their afternoon walk.
Each of these “perfect shots” earn Friedman an average of more than 10,000 likes on Instagram. Shirley Braha, the owner of Instagram dog celebrity @marniethedog, sees a rationale behind the popularity of dog pictures. “When you’re scrolling through your feed of photos of people trying to impress you with their appearance, it’s a relief to see a photo of a cute animal being cute and not trying to inspire jealousy,” said Braha.
For Friedman, dog pictures actually generate a moment of happiness: “Dogs are so remarkable; everyone wants dogs, right?” he said. “I make people happy.”
The site also allows Friedman to make “a good amount of money” via donations as well as through the sale of custom prints. About six months ago, book publishers started approaching him.
At this point, it may come as a surprise that Friedman, who grew up surrounded by his family dogs, doesn’t own one here in New York.
He realizes that “a dog is something you can count on loving you unconditionally when you’re home from work and Tinder isn’t working out,” and he has seen how they serve as “furry ice-breakers” when their owners walk them.
So why doesn’t he have one himself? “I own all the dogs,” he joked.