DECATUR -- Since Decatur native Seth Casteel's underwater dog photography first went viral online in February, his life has essentially turned inside out.
He went from just trying to make a living offering personal portraiture sessions of pets to a nationally renowned figure in the field of photography, watching as offers he never would have expected to receive rolled in. But never has he forgotten his desire to return to Decatur with his work, which will be on display throughout November at the Decatur Area Arts Council, in a gallery simply titled "Dogs."
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"Not in a gazillion years would I have thought that taking underwater dog photos would bring such attention," said Casteel, who will be on hand tonight for the 5 to 8 p.m. artist reception at the Madden Arts Center. "Before that I was asking myself `How will my business succeed?' All I knew was that I was going to continue pursuing my passion for dog and cat photography. Up until a few months ago though, I wasn't sure about anything else. Now I'm hopeful that I'll be able to have this career forever."
Casteel's debut book of aquatic dog photos, "Underwater Dogs," was released Oct. 23, and is currently the No. 32 overall book in Amazon's sales rankings. It's the No. 1 offering overall in the fields of photography and pets. Customer reviews, unsurprisingly, are glowing.
And it's not just monetary success that has come Casteel's way. He's also had an opportunity to have his work featured in nationally distributed magazines and television news shows, and has accepted new photographic opportunities he never would have known otherwise. Earlier in the year, he was even sent to Alaska by The New York Times Magazine to photograph the annual migration and spawning of sockeye salmon, deep in grizzly country.
"That was super flattering to be asked to be their photographer, and it was an amazing experience," he said. "It was also much different from shooting dogs in a pool. I found that salmon aren't interested in tennis balls, that's for sure. And that water is pretty chilly; I'm told it was down to 37 degrees at times."
Casteel's special skill when it comes to underwater photography was an ability he cultivated pretty much entirely on his own. He took no classes to specifically refine his ability to shoot underwater, but instead took thousands of digital shots until he learned the basics.
"The great thing about shooting in digital photography these days is that you can learn so much, so fast," he said. "When you take tens of thousands of photos, you're going to figure some things out."
At the arts council, gallery director Sue Powell was very excited to get Casteel's exhibit installed, saying that his work transcends simple "pet photography" with the unique perspectives that he can find in his canine subjects.
"He hit on something unique," Powell said. "The personality of the dogs underwater in particular is much different from what we see on land. It's a unique canine perspective. Some of them are really funny, some are dramatic, and all of the colors are just beautiful."
"Dogs" isn't quite the typical exhibition for the arts council, but Powell stresses the quality of the work and the art of getting the perfect photo, as well as the local nature of Casteel as a hometown artist. The opening reception tonight will also be used to give exposure to local animal shelters, another passion of Casteel's.
"The adoption of pets is near and dear to his heart, so local organizations like Homeward Bound and Macon County Animal Shelter will be there to speak about their organizations and have a few pets up for adoption," Powell said. "There will also be a local pet photo contest up on the third floor that Seth will be judging, and the winners will receive some signed copies of his book."
Everything comes back to Casteel's overwhelming fondness for pets. In his dog subjects in particular, there is an almost infinite number of personality perspectives the photographer believes he can convey.
"Joyfulness, focused attention, passion, primal instinct; I could give you so many descriptors," he said. "People have a connection to dogs and appreciate the emotional capacity of dogs. We can't help but react."