May 12, 2014 at 12:49 PM ET
Helsinki-based photographer Maija Astikainen never had a dog when she was growing up.
But from her multi-year photo project — of pups sitting pretty like people — you'd think she'd been a dog lover her whole life.
Astikaninen started to toy with the idea in 2009. "First, I was shooting dogs and their owners together, but then I changed it to only dogs," she told TODAY.com. "As I found out that it looks actually a bit weird with only the dogs, as if they were the owners of the house or living there themselves."
The photographer is fascinated by how people personify animals. "I realized that what is the most interesting point about dogs to me, is that how we kind of misinterpret the things they are doing," she said. "We even sometimes consider them something in between pets and humans. Something like furry babies — animals, but with human qualities."
Looking at portraits of people — to shed light on "the relationship of people and their pets" and how animals gain so much importance in our lives — helps give Astikainen inspiration. "It happens to me all the time with my cat," she said. "I see the things it does as human gestures and I put human thoughts to it."
Astikainen is using the project for her photography masters thesis at Aalto University School of Art, Design and Architecture, but she has other goals in mind, too. "I'm also having plans of making a book out of it and maybe an exhibition as well," she said. "The plans are quite open."