Juji isn’t really as big as he looks on Instagram, where he has become larger than life.
Bounding around the yard outside of Buffalo, Minn., Juji is, in fact, life-size. A little leggy perhaps, in the way that golden doodles — a cross between a golden retriever and a standard poodle — can be.
But neither is he the fuzzy white canine who towers over landscapes, people and cars, thanks to the digital wizardry of Chris Cline, who can’t quite get over what’s happening to his life.
“It’s amazing,” Cline says. “We live in a country where I can make a living taking pictures of my dog.”
On Cline’s Instagram account, @christophercline, Juji appears to be 7 feet tall, yet utterly normal — walking alongside Cline down a country lane, sprawled on the couch, leaping across a stream. The marvels of Photoshop also enable more fanciful scenes: Juji and Cline on a cloud, Juji as a mighty steed, or being buzzed by airplanes atop the Empire State Building.
You can’t help but smile.
That’s really all there is to it: You scroll, you smile.
But hey, on some days, that’s a gift of incalculable value.
“It’s like people know you can get away from everyday stuff,” Cline said of his more than 76,000 Instagram followers worldwide. “I don’t really know how to explain it. It’s an escape.”
Cline’s girlfriend, Chris Fagerlie, thinks the illustrations appeal to kids, “but also to the kid in the adult.” Some of Cline’s scenes recall childhood days when you and your dog were kind of the same size. Maybe he seemed even bigger.
Little wonder that Cline says he’s inspired by “Calvin and Hobbes,’ the revered comic that, for 10 years ending in 1995, captured the hearts and minds of countless readers. It featured a little boy and his stuffed tiger come-to-life as an oversized pal. Only when an adult was around did Hobbes appear as the small toy he was.
“It was all about their adventures together,” Cline said. “With Juji, I can see myself as a kid doing all this stuff.”
It began innocently enough
Cline was a graphic designer in Virginia when he began corresponding with Fagerlie, a nature photographer. They’d met on Instagram, admiring each other’s posts.
After months of talking, “we agreed to meet,” Cline said. “So about three years ago, I got on a bus for Minnesota and I’ve never left.”
They now live on 300 acres southwest of Buffalo, where a tributary of the Crow River meanders in the distance, home to hundreds of swans or pelicans or geese, depending on the season.
Fagerlie wanted a dog; Cline was less than enthusiastic. But after a hospital stay in 2014, he returned home to Juji. He remained less than enthusiastic.
“I mean, she got a wussy dog,” he said. A doodle. “I wanted a guy’s dog.”
Cline, 41, tries to tell a good story, but in truth, confessed that it didn’t take long before he and Juji started their interspecies bromance.
“He’s as much of a guy as I am,” Cline said, laughing. “He belches as loud as I do, does all the bodily noises.”
There’s not a dog owner in the world who doesn’t loving sharing photos of their dog, so Cline began fiddling around on his computer, enlarging Juji until he loomed over his owner. Cline, who favors plaid shirts, is rather distinctive himself, with dark eyes and a sharply groomed salt-and-pepper beard that suggests an outdoorsy George Clooney.
He posted the edits on Instagram, to his 800 or so followers. It was just for fun.
“There was no definite start to this,” he said. “And when it happened, it didn’t happen the way things usually happen.”
Usually, he said, your local paper writes something, then maybe you get on something bigger, then maybe something national, then maybe something international.
Cline and Juji went viral globally before anyone in Minnesota knew what was happening. Then nationally, @christophercline was featured on the “Today” show site. Celebrities such as Ashton Kutcher, Adam Levine and Lil Wayne are fans.
Now local media are making their way to Buffalo.
For now, a dream job
People started asking him to make similar images — he calls them edits — with their pets. Via e-mail, he tells them how to take a photo and what lighting to use. “Then I do an edit and send back a high-res image to them,” he said. Each edit takes about two hours, sitting at the sort of Early American desk your grandma might use to address Christmas cards.
His tools are fairly vintage, as well: a basic camera, a 2000 Toshiba computer and a 1997 Photoshop program. He probably should upgrade, “but if you want to do something and you have the drive to do it, you can make it happen, whatever tools you have.”
He charges $50 for an edit — “twenty-five dollars an hour, standard graphic designer rates,” he said with a shrug. He rises at 4 a.m. to keep up with demand, ideally being able to knock off work in early afternoon to take Juji for a walk.
For now, he said, he has a dream job.
There have been other famously photographed dogs, William Wegman’s baleful Weimaraners perhaps the best-known. But Juji has a similarly disconcerting way of channeling humanity, especially when he’s sitting in Cline’s easy chair. You’re tempted to offer him a beer.
“If a dog trainer came over here, he’d say he’s terrible,” Cline said. “But we know what we need from each other.”
Kim Ode • 612-673-7185 • @Odewrites