Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Dogs! Dogs! Dogs!

Ben has enjoyed paging through his big photo books (especially this one and this one) for a while now, but it's mostly been clear that his pleasure has had more to do with the hinge-motion of the pages than observing the pictures. But recently he's made the mental leap and is able to recognize that the images correspond to real-world objects and creatures.

At least, if they're dogs.

We have two basset hounds, Lola and Hugo, and as I mentioned here, I first noticed he'd acquired some receptive language when I named the dogs and he looked at them. He likes them both very much, and the feelings are decidedly mutual. So it's no surprise that they continue to open developmental doors for him.

This latest started with the basset hound calendar in the kitchen, which was the first image Ben got excited about, first grinning and then pointing and grinning, wanting to be taken closer so that he could smack at the image, possibly making sure there wasn't really a doggy behind it somewhere. Then he and I were paging through one of his picture books, and he pointed at a photo of a dog: "Dah!" This dog wasn't a basset hound. And then he pointed at a bear and a wolf and a cougar. So, ok, we haven't exactly narrowed down what a dog is, but bears and cougars aren't that far off, and wolves are just dogs whose ancestors -- rather shortsightedly -- resisted the appeal of human garbage heaps. Which of course makes me think about how I know a wolf from a bear from a dog, how infinitely complicated those distinctions are, what a miracle it is that my not-quite-year-old can do it, how essential this kind of detailed visual sorting must be to human evolutionary success.

And then the thing that really knocked me out: he pointed out the doggy in an illustrated book. And not a photorealistic illustration, rather a stylized one (in Dav Pilkey's The Paperboy). This dog isn't a basset hound, either, but it is a low-rider and a bit of a fatty, so similar. Still, how does the kid know? What markers of dogness do his real dogs share with this painting? In the time before photography, did it take longer for babies to recognize images? Do photographs create a kind of visual bridge between the real and the imagined?

When her first child was around Ben's age, my friend C. asked me for photos of Lola, who was a puppy at the time. (I believe I sent her prints -- decent images were probably too big to email eight years ago, and there was no such thing as Flickr.) She was making a doggy picture book for her son. I loved the idea, and loved that she wanted to include Lola. Last week, I made one for Ben, with photos of our dogs, dogs we know, and lots of dogs from the Dogs! Dogs! Dogs! pool at Flickr. (Scotch photo laminating sheets are awesome.)

He loves it.

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