BOOKS: ‘Compawssion’ creates awareness of rescue dogs
Book of canine portraits ‘is all about creating awareness’ of rescue dogs, says author/photographer
Idyllwild — Former Hollywood actor Frank Bruynbroek developed a love of rescue dogs two decades ago. And the actor-turned-photographer channeled that passion into a book that features humanlike shots of the canines while bringing attention to those that have been neglected and abandoned.
“Compawssion: Portraits of Rescued Dogs” is a glossy hardcover book of 100 black-and-white photographs, and a 15-year project of Bruynbroek’s. The book’s growing appeal is largely due to Bruynbroek’s interviews with 25 celebrity-activists, including Dr. Jane Goodall, Diane Keaton, Ellen DeGeneres, Jackie Chan, Kim Basinger and Brigitte Bardot.
Bruynbroek conducted in-person and phone interviews with the stars, some taking years to complete. For example, he flew twice to Paris to meet with Bardot, only to interview her over the phone.
“All of them talked about their passion for dogs and why they rescued them, as opposed to buying them,” Bruynbroek said. “The stories are about love and respect.”
He said Kim Basinger’s animals are an antidote to what she considers a noisy world where most people are either living in the past, or in the future.
“Dogs don’t have that battle. They are present beings,” Basinger said in “Compawssion.” “They’re so good at the mundane things. They’re very still in their communication. Their voices are so loud to me. In their stillness, I really hearsomething that’s valuable.”
On Saturday, Café Aroma of Idyllwild will host a book signing.
“This book is all about creating awareness,” Bruynbroek said during a recent interview at his gallery in Oakbrook Village in Idyllwild. Tee, a female pit bull rescued from a junkyard, was asleep at his feet.
The portraits come from Bruynbroek’s early days as an activist, and from later commissioned portraits.
“I think people like them because they look a lot like people,” Bruynbroek said.
Dogs may not be the easiest subject to photograph, but one owner whose pet is featured in the book says she believes they’re cooperative because of Bruynbroek’s demeanor.
“I think dogs know that Frank is safe,” said Tawny Crist, of Banning, whose 15-year-old female German shorthaired pointer, Mic, is featured in the book. “He doesn’t do ‘cutesy,’ but brings attention to abused and neglected dogs.”
“Compawssion” was released in mid-October, and by mid-November had sold 70 copies at $75 each. A Collector’s Edition sells for $395. On the “Compawssion” website, there’s a list of eight animal rescue groups selected to receive a portion of the book’s proceeds.
The book has been featured in national newspapers and magazines. “Entertainment Tonight” was expected to feature a spot on Friday.
Cesar Millan, of the popular “Dog Whisperer” TV series, wrote the foreword, while the back features a quote by William Wegman, famous for his portraits of dressed-up Weimaraners.
“Each portrait is a searing guided missile straight to the heart,” wrote Wegman.
Two decades ago, Bruynbroek was rescuing homeless dogs with his girlfriend and aggressively trying to find homes for all of them.
“We would set up with our donated van on different sidewalks each weekend in L.A., trying to place homeless dogs. It was a crazy time,” Bruynbroek said.
When his beloved pit bull, Rosalie, died, Bruynbroek vowed to create a broader awareness with his photographic skills. As a Hollywood actor, he knew the value of celebrity, and set out to interview celebrity-activists.
Luckily, one of his dog-portrait customers put him in touch with actress Diane Keaton.
“Diane was my first celebrity interview,” Bruynbroek said. “She could afford any breed she wanted, but she chose a mutt.”
Keaton’s rescue dog, Red, is featured in his book.
He said that talking to celebrities was easy because it was all about the dogs.
“I love seeing tough guys like Gene Simmons from KISS, ‘kootchie-kooing’ with his five dogs,” Bruynbroek said.
He met other celebrities, such as Jackie Chan, on a movie set.
“We were filming ‘Rush Hour 3,’ and Jackie Chan was in my scene. So I gave everyone on the set my dog calendars, including his assistant who set up the meeting for me,” Bruynbroek said.
No photos of celebrities are featured in the book; only six select portraits of their dogs.
Simone Reyes, who works with Def Jam co-founder Russell Simmons, rescues dogs that nobody wants. Reyes’ dog with no eyes is the last one Bruynbroek featured in the book.
“I wanted to show that eyes or no eyes, they don’t care,” Bruynbroek said. “They still give us love and have no complaints about life.”
Bruynbroek uses black-and-white film and a professional printer to process his photographs. Sometimes the first image works, while other shoots take longer.
“I don’t use a digital camera, so I take my time to get the right shot,” he said.
Mecca, a 4-year-old English deerhound, was rescued by Idyllwild residents Gretchen and Jack Peckham, who are greyhound rescue activists.
“Mecca was on her third litter of puppies, and was living with Jose, a homeless man, with three other adult dogs in the back of a truck,” Gretchen Peckham said.
A woman affiliated with a dog rescue group near Sacramento persuaded Jose to let Mecca birth the puppies in her home. Two of the 12 died while Mecca was sick with heartworm. Later, the woman sent out an email to place the puppies, but Gretchen Peckham was interested in Mecca.
“She was in pretty bad shape, but survived the painful heartworm treatment,” Jack Peckham said.
They won a dog portrait at an Animal Rescue Friends auction, and Mecca was the first of their many dogs to be photographed by Bruynbroek.
“Frank really captures the essence of their personalities,” Gretchen said.
Café Aroma owner Hubert Halkin, who lives in Idyllwild and La Jolla, was impressed with Bruynbroek’s book.
“Café Aroma welcomes dogs of all kinds, and quite a few of them have been beautifully photographed by Frank,” Halkin said.
The “Compawssion” book signing will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday at Café Aroma, 54750 N. Circle Drive in Idyllwild. A portion of the proceeds will go to Animal Rescue Friends.
To order the book, visit www.compawssion.com.
- Richard Schwartz