Niagara Gazette

February 12, 2013

Wet and wild

By Michele DeLuca
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Animal lovers will likely agree there is something primitive and beautiful in watching a water-loving dog race towards a lake or leap into a pool. 

Beneath the surface of the water, dogs eyes get wide, their fur ripples in the current and they look like other-worldly creatures in flight, as shown in images captured by a California photographer whose work is touching dog lovers around the planet.

Animal photographer Seth Casteel’s new book, “Underwater Dogs,”  has spent several weeks on the New York Times best seller list and is gathering fans in Australia, England and Germany. Soon, it will be available in Russia and Japan.   

The California photographer — who also runs a nonprofit organization called Second Chance Photos.Org and teaches animal shelters how to use photos to increase adoption — is in the region this weekend, photographing local dogs at a doggy swim center called Canine Splash on Vulcan Street in Buffalo.  While all photo slots are filled this weekend and the event is closed to the public, those with dogs who love to swim can visit the pools during regular hours. For more information they can visit the website at www.caninesplash.com or call 551-0868.

Meantime, the photographer took some time out recently to answer a few questions about his wet and wild experiences. 

QUESTION: How did you get started taking pictures of the dogs under water?

ANSWER:  It all started with a little dog called Buster, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel who jumped into a pool one day.  We were doing an on-land photo shoot in California, and he decided he would rather do it in the pool. He kept jumping into the pool over and over again. Obviously, he loved swimming more than anything else. I went out and bought a little point-and-shoot disposable underwater camera and came back and shot him. That was the beginning of the series.

Q: Your dog photos were in National Geographic.  How did that happen?

A:  They were interested in my underwater dogs series so I went out to shoot some photos specifically for National Geographic and they choose one to put in the section called Visions of Earth, their major photography section. My picture was the opening photo for Visions in August 2012. That was incredible. National Geographic is distributed to in every country in the world. 

Q:  Did you get a lot of feedback from that photo?

A: Oh, yeah.  I mean the response to my book has been fantastic. That’s a dream come true. But as a photographer interested in capturing life, my number one ultimate dream was to be in National Geographic. The cool thing about National Geographic is they were interested in underwater dogs before the book “Underwater Dogs” became popular. 

Q: I’m guessing you get pretty wet?

A: I’m always in the pool. In some shots I’m at the bottom of the pools with a weight belt. I’ve worked with over 300 dogs in probably a dozen states. The dogs are obviously not all Labradors and Golden Retrievers. You have your Pugs, Chihuahuas, and then you have your mixed breeds, baby dogs, senior dogs and I’ve even got a wolf hybrid in my book.  

 Q: The dogs look so happy? Are they always like that?

A: You have a variety of different things happening under the surface of the water. Certainly, the dogs are focused, curious and surprised but some of the shots are kind of primal, kind of wolfie and I’m very happy to show those shots. People might think they’re funny, but dogs all come from wolves. I think today dogs enjoy the benefits of contemporary society. They love to sleep in bed with their owners, they get spoiled with the best treats, and they go to pet salons, but I also think they enjoy exploring their wild instincts and the water presents them an opportunity to do that.

Q: What are some of your favorite shots? 

A:  Let me tell you about Mr. Beefy. He’s an old English Bulldog. It was the first time he’s ever been underwater and the picture shows his surprise, which is just hilarious. 

Q: How do you feel about working as a photographer for so long and finding that it’s these pictures that have brought you some element of success?

A: I think it’s terrific. I wouldn’t have guessed that this is the series that would have gotten me all the attention. I’ve done a lot of work with dogs and cats on land. But, I’m just really interested in the emotion of dogs. It’s fascinating to me exploring the subject.  Turns out the underwater aspect resonated with people around the world because it’s so unique.

Q: Why do you think people react to those shots like they do?

A: There so many types of emotions happening. We identify with dogs, and dogs identify with us. It’s my opinion that dogs aren’t that different from us in their emotional capacity. The bottom line is people love the pictures because people love dogs.