Unconditional love: Jane Sobel Klonsky catches dogs and their people on camera

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MANCHESTER -- Dogs are a man's best friend. A woman's, too. If there's any doubt left in that saying, Jane Sobel Klonsky is out to disprove it.

A professional photographer, co-author of several books of photography and lover of dogs, she is pursuing both passions by creating an online portfolio she plans to develop into a book that describes, both in words and pictures, the intimate, mysterious, but certainly tangible, relationship between people and their dogs, she said.

"It's developed a life of its own," she added, as the project has now grown to about 140 portraits of people and their best friends over the past two and a half years.

It all started with a visit to her accountant to discuss insurance options, she said.

As she and her accountant, Angela Arbolino of Manchester, were reviewing the insurance material, Klonsky's attention drifted to a nearby English Bulldog, named Clementine, who was relaxing in a doggie bed by Arbolino's desk.

It turned out Clementine accompanied Arbolino to work every day, and she was suffering from bone cancer and had only a few weeks left to live. Klonsky and Arbolino set up a photo shoot for the following day.

"We were told it was aggressive and she probably didn't have that long," Arbolino said.

That forecast was correct, and having the professional photographs of ‘Clemmie' has "been a treasure," she said.

"I think with a dog you get unconditional love, and there's not too many places in this world you can get that," she added. "They're silly, they make me laugh and smile."

That photograph launched Klonsky on a mission to document those feelings in images, which can be seen online at projectunconditional.info. She encouraged the owners of the dogs to write about the special bonds they have with them to add depth to the body of work, she said.

"I found her out in the desert on the Pacific Coast of Baja Mexico 14 years ago. She was a pathetic little creature and indeed a puppy, nearly starving, covered with fleas and sores. I almost didn't pick her up. At the urging of a friend, I did, and only minutes passed before I knew I would never set her down" said Tim of Sheffield, about his dog, Neblina.

Klonsky got her start as a professional photographer with the help of a dose of serendipity. She had gone to college and earned a master's degree in psychology. She was a social worker, who counseled drug addicts and alcoholics, and the work was grueling, she said.

"It was hard for me," she said. "I used to carry the weight of the world around with me."

But, while in college, she had also developed an interest in photography. Then came 1976 and the first running of the New York City Marathon that was held across all five boroughs of the city, instead of just in Central Park. The start of the race is from the Staten Island side of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, and Klonsky, along with her then-boyfriend and now husband, Arthur Klonsky, rented a helicopter to circle over the bridge and shoot photographs of the start of the race. The pair grabbed an image that become one of those iconic photographs, and the marathon committee used it for the official poster for several years.

That led to a successful career for the pair in commercial, advertising and stock photography work, leading eventually to three photo books on southern cities. In 1989, they published "Heartlands: An American Odyssey," a book of photographs they had taken on their travels across the country. An important part of that project were the two Great Danes they traveled with, who served as "good-will ambassadors," Klonsky said.

That led them to resettle in Vermont from Manhattan, first in Landgrove, then later in Manchester, where they have continued with their commercial work.

The current project -- which saw Klonsky traveling to Alaska last week to shoot more photos -- she has labeled "Unconditional," after the affection she thinks, as many others do, characterizes the canine attitude toward their owners. That is the working title of the book.

An important sub-set of the project is about senior dogs in the twilight of their lives, Klonsky said.

"Just like a person, a dog has an individual personality, and they age differently," she said. "Some age gracefully and some don't. Some are comfortable in their skin, and some get crotchety."

For now, the project can be only viewed online, but the experiment in social media outreach, which includes a Facebook page, has been a different and interesting experience from her earlier books. Today, it's the best way to spread the word and reach your audience, she said.

"A book is not the most important thing; it's connecting with people about their dogs," she said. "I'm not doing it just to create a book."


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