It started with a Great Dane.
Michael Crouser was walking through the Lake of the Isles Park in Minneapolis looking for a Great Dane to photograph.
"I had this idea of shooting a series of Great Danes," he said. "I wanted to get them in movement, show musculature and moving parts and shiny coats and bones.
"The pictures came out very differently than I had expected. The best picture came out showing something very monumentally goofy about this Great Dane, with legs and ears flopping everywhere, and his eyes and mouth wide open as he chased a ball across the park." Crouser went back to the park for more.
"I found no Great Danes, but I found huge crowds of other dogs in all manner of action, playing and fighting and chasing each other. I merely started photographing what I saw." That was the beginning of Dog Run, a book of 90 black-and-white photographs of all species of dogs in action, published in 2008 by Viking Studio.
Over a period of about two years Crouser shot almost exclusively at the Minneapolis park and at Tompkins Square Park in the East Village of New York. "One of the things I noticed is these dogs behaved much differently in the company of other dogs than they did when they were with their human owners. I just felt like the dogs were so focused on each other and not on the ‘acceptable behavior' that their owners might expect of them on a walk around the lake or on a street."
Keen observation for a guy who doesn't really consider himself a dog person.
"We've only ever had one family dog," he said. "It's kind of funny. People would ask me, ‘What kind of dog do you have?' They would never ask me if I had a dog. It didn't really come from any special affinity for dogs as much as it did a curiosity about their shapes."
Crouser's previous animal study, Los Toros, which focused on bullfighting, also was shot in black and white. "I've always felt like what I can do with black and white feels more like my personal voice than does shooting and manipulating color," he said. "When I think about making photographs, I think about making black-and-white photographs."
He also shot the book entirely with film, using a Nikon F4 camera and Kodak Professional Tri-X film.
"If you consider photography your personal art, which I do, then the media you use and the tools that you use are as important as the subjects you use. Working in the darkroom, with Tri-X film and the Nikon cameras, producing black-and-white imagery, that feels personal."
For what he calls his "professional" photography, which includes commercial and editorial projects, "I shoot in a lot of different mediums for a lot of different media," he said. "I've shot everything from 8-by-10 Polaroids to digital to black-and-white film."
For digital photography he mostly uses a D2X. "I'm comfortable with Nikon cameras and have been using them my whole life. The D2X is very reminiscent of the F4 film camera that I use. It feels familiar to me. Obviously there's a lot to learn when you make the jump to digital. But it's still a Nikon camera and it feels like a Nikon camera. It wasn't really a big jump."
Next up for Crouser is a study of cattle ranching in Colorado, another study in black and white.
"It's all about the disappearing world of cattle ranching done in the old-fashioned manner. They still do all their work on horseback and brand with branding irons and hot fires and wear the cowboy clothing that's functional but also traditional. They live a rancher/cowboy kind of life that I find very fascinating for many of the same reasons I do many of my subjects."
Sound like a lot of work? That's not how Crouser approaches it.
"There's a difference between working and working on something. This is just what I do. This is just who I am. I will always do this kind of thing. It's how I live and what I do with my time, go make photos. Making photographs is continually fascinating to me."