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So Long, Libby Hall

July 11, 2023
by the gentle author

Libby Hall (1941-2023), Photographer & Collector of Dog Photography, died last Thursday

Libby Hall

Between 1966 and 2006, Libby Hall collected old photographs of dogs, amassing many thousands to assemble what is possibly the largest number of canine pictures ever gathered by any single person. Libby began collecting casually when the photographs were of negligible value, but by the end she had published four books and been priced out of the market. Yet through her actions Libby rescued an entire canon of photography from the scrap heap, seeing the poetry and sophistication in images that were previously dismissed as merely sentimental. And today, we are the beneficiaries of her visionary endeavour.

A joyful iconoclast by nature who had, “Stop! Do not resuscitate, living will extant,” tattooed on her chest – Libby Hall was a born and bred New Yorker originating from the Upper East Side of Manhattan, who moved into her house in Clapton in 1967 with her husband the newspaper cartoonist, Tony Hall, and stayed for the rest of her life.

“My husband Tony and I used to go to Kingsland Waste, where we had a friend who did house clearances, and in those days they sold old photo albums and threw away the pictures. So I used to rescue them and I began sorting out the dogs – because I always liked dogs – and it became a collection. Then I started collecting properly, looking for them at car boot sales and auctions. And eventually a publisher offered me an advance of two thousand pounds for a book of them, which was fantastic, and when each of my books was published I just used the royalties to buy more and more photographs. I had a network of dealers looking out for things for me and they would send me pictures on approval. They were nineteenth century mostly and I only collected up until 1940, because I didn’t want to invade anyone’s privacy. Noboby was interested until my first book was published in 2000, and afterwards people said I had shot myself in the foot because everybody started collecting them and they became very expensive, but by then I had between five and six thousand photographs of dogs.

Dogs have always been powerfully important to me, I’ve lived with dogs since the beginning of my days. There’s a photo of my father holding me as baby in one arm and a dog in the other – dog’s faces were imprinted upon my consciousness as early as humans, and I’ve always lived with dogs until six weeks ago when my dog Pembury died. For the last month, friends have been ringing my bell and there’s only silence because he doesn’t come and I open the door to find them in tears. It was an intense relationship because it was just the two of us, Pembury and me, and as he got older he depended on me greatly. So it is good to have my freedom now but only for a little while. At one point, we had three dogs and four cats in this house. We even had a dog and a cat that used to sleep together, during the day they’d do all the usual challenging and chasing but at night they’d curl up in a basket.

When I was eleven, I wanted a dog of my own desperately, I’d been campaigning for five years and I wanted a cocker spaniel. My father contacted a dog rescue shelter in Chester, Connecticut, and they said they had one. But as we walked past the chain link fence, there was a dog barking and we were told that it was going to be put down the next morning. Of course, we took that dog, even though he wasn’t a cocker spaniel. We wondered if they always told people this, but Chester and I were inseparable ever after.”

With touching generosity of spirit, Libby confided to me that her greatest delight is to share her collection of pictures. “What matters to me is others seeing them, I never made any money from my books because I spent it all on buying more photographs.” she said.

These photographs grow ever more compelling upon contemplation because there is always a tension between the dog and the human in each picture. The presence of the animal can unlock the emotional quality of people who might otherwise appear withheld, and the evocation of such intimacy in pictures of the long dead, who are mostly un-named, carries a soulful poetry that is all its own. Bridging the gap of time in a way that photographs solely of humans do not, Libby’s extraordinary collection constitutes an extended mediation upon mortality and the fragility of tender emotions.

“I put my heart and soul into it, and it was very hard giving up collecting, but my fourth book was the ultimate book, and it coincided with the realisation that my husband Tony was dying, so I realised that it was the end of a period of my life.” Libby concluded with a melancholy smile, sitting upon the couch where her dog Pembury had recently expired and casting her eyes thoughtfully around the pictures of dogs lining the walls. I asked Libby how she felt after she donated her collection to the Bishopsgate Institute. “I’ve got the books,” she reminded me, placing her hand upon them protectively, “I have no visual memory at all, so I keep going back to look at them.”

The two stripes on this soldier’s sleeve meant he had been wounded twice and was probably on leave recovering from the second wound when this photograph was taken.

HRH the Princess of Wales with her favourite dogs on board the royal yacht Osborne.

John Brown 1871. The dogs are Corran, Dacho, Rochie and Sharp, who was Queen Victoria’s favourite.

George Alexander, Actor/Manager, with his wife Florence.

This photograph of Mick came with the collar he is wearing.

Queen Victoria and Sharp (pictured above with John Brown) at Balmoral in 1867.

Ellen Terry.


Charles Dickens with his devoted dog Turk.


Libby’s recently deceased dog Pembury wearing the vest that was essential in his last days.

Libby on the couch where Pembury died six weeks earlier.

One of Libby’s six dog dolls’ houses. – “I think dolls’ houses with dolls are rather scary but dolls’ houses with dogs are ok.”

Libby Hall – “I put my heart and soul into it.”

Portraits of Libby Hall copyright © Martin Usborne

Dog photographs copyright © The Libby Hall Collection at the Bishopsgate Institute

14 Responses leave one →
  1. Susan Levinson permalink
    July 11, 2023

    I knew that Libby was very ill, but meanwhile I’m very sad to hear this news. I have her four books about dogs & cats, and I’d contacted her several years ago re: how much I love her books. She seemed like quite a special person.

  2. Andy permalink
    July 11, 2023

    A really beautiful collection. Thank you.

  3. Annabel Emslie permalink
    July 11, 2023

    What a wonderful legacy and a snapshot into other people’s lives.

  4. July 11, 2023

    In heaven, may she meet all her dog companions again. 
    LIBBY HALL  (1941-2023) — R.I.P

    Love & Peace

  5. July 11, 2023

    What an amazing legacy to leave behind.
    R.I.P Libby

  6. Wilma permalink
    July 11, 2023

    Thank you for this wonderful post. Libby sounds like she was an extraordinary person.
    I find these photographs delightful, even the more sombre ones. Having recently lost our old dog, Caspar, it is comforting to see other dogs and their owners or just the marvellous dogs themselves. A great reminder.

  7. Eve permalink
    July 11, 2023

    Libby saw how people’s pets brought a special warmth to photos. Thanks for sharing that & bringing her charming collection to light – lovely soul r.i.p ..

  8. boudica Fawkesredd permalink
    July 11, 2023

    Sorry to hear about Libby hall she was a great friend and I used to visit her regularly and listen to her stories about thee wonderful pics of dogs and people she met she wyll be sadly missed

  9. Frances Donnelly permalink
    July 11, 2023

    What a remarkable woman, I loved the photograph of her and felt I knew her. The dog photographs, often of people so grave and protective of their dogs-and cats-filled one with emotion. A striking example of how animals can bring out the very best in humans. A wonderful piece.

  10. Linda Docherty permalink
    July 11, 2023

    R.I.P. Libby. Together now with her beloved husband Tony.

  11. Irene Lilian Pugh permalink
    July 11, 2023

    Absolutely fantastic selection of DOG photographs. Certainly man’s best friend.


  12. July 13, 2023

    A beautiful tribute. I like to think that dogs (and cats, birds, etc. too) are humanity’s guides to making people better humans. Their devoted loyalty, boundless exuberance, and zeal for life teach us more about compassion and empathy than any great book. I think Libby understood that these photos were a record of a profound bond between a person and an animal that is very different than what we experience in human relationships. To see a photo of Charles Dickens or Queen Victoria with their dogs adds an element of kindness to their personality that we would never discover in a biography. Libby’s collection is not about dogs as much as it’s about the human experience of love for a intimate companion, all to briefly in our lives, who happens to be a dog.

  13. Kornelia permalink
    July 21, 2023

    It was an honour to meet you, Libby. Hope you’re all together now. Each and everyone. Thank you with all my heart. Kornelia

  14. Mary Thurston permalink
    October 1, 2023

    Libby and I met in a fierce online bidding war for a photo of Queen Victoria and Sharp. That was the beginning of a lively and rewarding long distance friendship that lasted more than 20 years. She was always kind and interested in everything, and in her last years she loved receiving cakes from the Betty’s tea shops. God speed my friend, the dogs are waiting for you. . .

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