by Sophia Nicolov and Andy Flack, University of Bristol for the Animal History Museum.
People are always looking to create amusing photos and videos of their animals. We want to feel that our dog is the top dog, cutest dog, handsomest dog, or even the weirdest dog because we believe they deserve to be recognized as unique individuals with personalities and lives of their own.
We live in an age dominated by ever-evolving technology where we are constantly trying to capture every single moment of our lives, and technology is increasingly allowing us to find new ways of looking at things, making the ordinary extraordinary.
The Animal History Museum's exhibition "I'm Ready for my Close-up Mr Casteel: The Making of Underwater Dogs" does exactly this by combining a deep appreciation of the human-animal bond with the technology that creates and captures ‘never before memorialized moments' of that bond. It is for these reasons that Seth Casteel's photographs are so captivating. What could be more ordinary than a dog chasing a ball into the water but "the surprise, the concentration, the sheer joy of play and total engagement in a watery environment – or the remarkable mastery of technique needed to create such evocative and vibrant scenes, it seemed audiences couldn't get enough of these images," as Casteel describes it.
The dogs appear to have smiling faces; they look both scary and silly, and we can recognize a range of human emotions in the faces and expressions of these creatures. Some of the dogs even appear to be laughing. Dogs are in many ways subject to the whims of our imaginations and we are forever trying to ascribe emotions to the different faces we think our companion animals "pull."
This is all about understanding their personalities and their interpretation of the world around them. There is a profound desire to recognize human emotions and facial expressions in a species that we live side by side with despite being so visibly different from. The immense skill of Casteel in capturing the distorted image of the dogs makes these photographs even more entertaining: tiny paws, massive heads, "grinning," one eye closed. To some extent the dogs have morphed into something totally different, something of the dogginess has departed.