Have you met Maddie yet? She’s a ridiculously photogenic brown coonhound rescue with white speckles, huge, flappy ears and eyes that tend to squint, seemingly indicating a certain level of bliss (and/or sleepiness).
A couple of years ago, Maddie’s owner, Theron Humphrey—feeling unfulfilled by his corporate job, stung by a recent breakup and pondering the direction of his life following the death of his grandfather—set out to travel the country, to meet and photograph one new person each day. At his side was Maddie.
During the yearlong, 65,000-mile road trip, Humphrey discovered Maddie’s uncanny sense of balance and started taking photographs of her perched atop everything from a scooter to a horse to a fence to a tree. These guaranteed-to-put-a-smile-on-your-face photos have been collected in the recently published book, Maddie on Things.
Based in Atlanta, Georgia, Humphrey is back on the road, this time on a tour to promote the book—visit www.maddieontour.com to see the schedule—and also continue work on a documentary called Why We Rescue. We spoke with Humphrey about the book when he and Maddie were in Baltimore, about to head to DC for an event at Politics and Prose.
Tell us about how the book came about.
The Maddie Project just happened organically over time. I was out on the road traveling America to shoot a documentary [Why We Rescue] to get stories from everyday folks, and Maddie came along with me. I rescued her right before I started traveling. Over time, I just started to point my camera at her.
Was there anything that Maddie couldn’t balance on?
We just got really good at picking out things she could balance on. Early on, you try a couple of things and realize that it has to be a certain width and has to be stable and bolted down. You just get better at figuring out what to try and what not to try.
Maddie is perched pretty high in some of the photos. Were you ever worried about her falling?
No, I mean, we were doing it for only so long. She’s so well trained to stand still, and she just has great balance. For all of them, I could stand on my feet and put her up there, so none of them were too crazy. She’s never fallen.
You guys were on the road together for a year. It’s hard to imagine because she's so adorable, but does Maddie have any typical-dog habits that kind of got on your nerves?
[Laughs] Yeah, Maddie’s really food-driven. We always ate together. These days, whenever there’s food, she’s always in my face. When we were on the road, it was just the two of us, and she was good company, so I dealt with it and maybe even slightly encouraged it. But now, we go to people’s houses to eat, and we have to put Maddie in a separate room because she’s just conditioned to think that when there’s food around she gets fed, too. But that’s all right.
That’s not too bad. What would you say might have gotten on her nerves about you during your year on the road?
Oh man [laughs], probably that we had some long days of driving. I’m sure if she had her pick she wouldn’t have chosen to be in the car for eight hours. She would have rather been in the woods. But she would hunker down, and we’d get some miles in on the road, and she would fall asleep—and play afterward.
What was your favorite day of the trip?
We had a really awesome day in Moab, Utah. We went hiking in Arches National Park. I got up to the top, and there were a couple hundred people around the rim taking photographs of this giant arch, beautiful and epic. . . . When I lifted Maddie up to take a photo with my cell phone, everyone around the rim started cheering—I was holding this dog above my head in front of the arches, and the lighting was pretty awesome. It was kind of cool to have this whole group of people I didn’t know, just like “yeah, there’s a dog!” It was a moment.
Did you ever have any bad days? Ever think about calling it quits?
Oh, yeah, definitely. . . . Maddie would run off into the woods and come back covered in cow shit. I’d be like, “Maddie, why did you do that? We’re in the middle of nowhere, and I don’t have any way to wash you!” There were perils like that, of traveling with a dog, but more often than not, it’s an awesome experience.
You’re back on the road to promote the book now. Where all are you going?
The book tour has 45 official stops. Concurrently, we’re shooting the documentary—taking portraits of people and their animals, recording oral histories, and trying to change perception of rescuing adopted animals, showing people that they can be a joy in your life.
Tell us about your next book.
I don’t know exactly, but I know it’s going to be something with Maddie and sandwiches.
Whatever the next book turns out to be, one thing's for sure: We want more Maddie.
All photos from Maddie on Things. Used with permission from Chronicle Books.