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Newest Sewickley library exhibit goes to the dogs

| Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Photographer Seth Casteel said dogs are his heroes.

His underwater photos of those heroes are part of the new exhibit to be displayed through Oct. 31 at Sewickley Public Library, along with black-and-white dog photos by Valerie Shaff.

Casteel, 32, of Venice Beach, Calif., who owns Nala, a miniature Labradoodle and Fritz, a Norwich terrier, said his underwater dog photography career began in 2010.

He was taking pictures of a Cavalier King Charles spaniel named Buster in his backyard in California.

“The photo shoot was meant to be inland, but Buster decided he would rather be in the pool. As I watched him dive in over and over again chasing his favorite mini tennis ball, I thought, ‘What does he look like under there?' I left, bought a little point-and-shoot underwater camera and zipped back and jumped in,” said Casteel, who now has more sophisticated equipment.

He now has two published books, “Underwater Dogs” from which the library photos are featured, and “Underwater Dogs: Kids Edition.” “Underwater Puppies” will be out next fall.

His work has been published in galleries and in National Geographic and The New York Times Magazine.

Shaff, 57, of Germantown, N.Y., also has published several books with captions written by Roy Blount Jr., writer and humorist and a panelist on National Public Radio's “Wait, Wait ... Don't Tell Me!”

She said people don't have to love art to love her work.

“It's been a pleasure to have an artistic career that creates so much assessable work,” she said.

“Everyone who loves animals can appreciate my work. It has a popular appeal instead of an exclusive audience that only deals with art. You don't have to be an art lover person to enjoy images that speak to your heart.”

The black-and-white images at the library are from Shaff's book “If Only You Knew How Much I Smell You: True Portraits of Dogs.” Her other books are titled “I am Cat, Don't Forget That”; “I am Puppy, Hear Me Yap”; and “Am I Pig Enough for You Yet?: Voices of the Barnyard.”

Shaff has had commercial clients such as Ralph Lauren, Purina and Atlantic Records. She has traveled all over the world on photography assignments, and her work has been displayed internationally in museums and galleries.

Shaff, whose 13-year-old dog Rex, a Rhodesian ridgeback, died a year ago, began photographing dogs when she moved to the country. While there, she started “hanging out” at small farms taking photos of the farm animals. When people saw the pictures, they asked her to take pictures of their dogs and horses.

“The dog photos really took off,” she said.

The names of more than 20 community dogs whose owners have donated a minimum of $10 each to sponsor the show are featured on several posters promoting the exhibit hung in windows around the Village and in the front and back doors of the library.

Copies of “Underwater Dogs” and “If Only You Knew How Much I Smell You: True Portraits of Dogs” still are available for sale at Penguin Bookshop in Sewickley.

“I felt like this was a real coup getting work from these two best-selling author/photographers,” said Randi Morgan, library exhibits coordinator. “The patrons are really enjoying the show.”

Joanne Barron is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-324-1406 or jbarron@tribweb.com.

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