Underwater Dogs, by Seth Casteel

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Seth Casteel’s 2012 book Underwater Dogs has a straightforward premise – toss a ball or a rubber ring (or in one instance a clockwork penguin) into a pool and photograph a dog going after it with the camera submerged – but the execution was undoubtedly more complicated to get decent images, and these are crystal clear.  There are big dogs, feisty small ones as fearless as their larger brethren, aristocratic ones, mutts, all united by water.  Some look manic, others appear in philosophical mood.  Some are balletic, others possess the elegance of an old sack.  Not all take enthusiastically to the water; a few just dip their noses in.  Others are so comfortable they might be amphibians.  In general they may not be in their natural element, but they are in their element all the same.

This is a view only water can reveal, at times making even the most benign of animals feel sinister, dachshunds like monsters.  It’s not how we are used to regarding loveable old Fido; you certainly appreciate what big teeth, and big eyes, they have.  As Casteel says, they may be domesticated on the outside, but they still have a wild side, and here it comes to the fore.  Dogs are as entertaining under water as they are above it, but there is something primal on display as well.  One force of nature meets another, in contrast with the sedate out-of-water portraits which conclude the book.

We love dogs because they live in the moment, and we envy them their uncomplicated freedom.  Catching a tennis ball in a pool is the most important act in the world, and nothing will come between them and their goal.  It’s the best thing ever, until whatever they do next.  The book is as much fun for the browser as the aquatic experience was for the dogs because their enthusiasm is infectious and life affirming.  Casteel has identified a great niche; it may seem limited but it has endless scope (just one aspect of the dogs-doing-funny-things industry that now exists).  His introduction is perfunctory but there is really little to say.  One hardly needs to analyse photographs of dogs underwater in great depth, better rather to just go with the flow.

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