“We measure out our lives in the lives of our dogs”: a dog lover’s autobiography

Libby Hall. Pic: Martin Usborne

After assembling four books of dog photographs and amassing the largest collection of photographs of dogs in the world, the only sensible thing left to do is to publish more photographs of dogs.    

Photographer, collector, author and dog lover Libby Hall, who lives in Clapton, will soon turn her attention away from collecting pictures of strangers’ pets to publish her most  autobiographical book to date.  

A Measure of Dogs will be Hall’s fifth photography book, and will bring together for the first time the animals of her own lifetime; the dogs, cats and two ducks that saw her across two continents, a plethora of jobs, through 42 years of marriage and four bestselling books.  

The book has been more than a decade in the making, and includes photographs from the mid-Forties.   

Its title is taken from the wise words her husband, as one of her beloved dogs neared the end of its life: “We measure out our lives in the lives of our dogs.” 

Libby and her dog Pip.  Pic: Kuba Nowak

Born in New York in 1941, Hall worked as the circulation manager for the Village Voice and at Time/Life in New York from the age of 18. 

After a four-year long relationship with a UN diplomat in Austria, Hall moved to the UK, where she has remained since. She has lived in the same house in Clapton for 51 years with her husband, illustrator and photographer Tony Hall, who died in 2008.  

It was with her husband that Hall started collecting vintage photographs at postcard fairs and auction houses, especially those containing dogs. She sent some of these pictures to renowned novelist and art critic John Berger in 1999, who in turn showed them to Bloomsbury.  

Bloomsbury published all four of Hall’s books, and she used the royalties from each to buy more pictures. She has now donated her collection, the largest of its kind, to the Bishopsgate Institute.  

While the death of her husband marked the end of her time writing books, it also marked the beginning of her desire to showcase her personal photographs. This was compounded by her diagnosis, a year ago, with a terminal lung condition. 

“Once I was diagnosed, I realised I really wanted to do it,” she told Eastlondonlines. “The writing just poured out of me. It was all there, waiting.”  

Dogs and photography have been constants in Hall’s life. The book opens with a photograph of her as a baby staring intently into the face of the family dog, a Dachshund named Kirstie.

Kirstie the Dachshund, Libby and her father. Pic: Libby Hall

“I think her face was imprinted on me, like goslings that think the first being they see is their mother,” she said.

She has always had dogs, sometimes four at a time; several were dropped on her doorstep, one was found rooting around the bins in front of her home (and so named Bins), one on the sidewalk. Two remained by her side when her husband died, in the bed they all shared. She currently lives with an enormous Yorkshire terrier named Pip.

The sense of a life well lived pervades A Measure of Dogs, enhanced by the wonderful personalities of her animal companions.  “I love life,” said Hall, who recently had ‘STOP!!! DO NOT RESUSCITATE’ tattooed over her heart.  

“If there’s anything you should write about, it’s the pleasure I’ve felt at being able to share my photographs, and knowing that people look at them every day.”  

Hall hopes A Measure of Dogs will be published next year. Her photographs can be viewed online at https://www.flickr.com/photos/libbyhalldogs/. 




Leave a Reply