In a way, it makes sense that photographers Vincent Musi and Callie Shell’s books are coming out within two weeks of each other. It’s simply another step on the path that the two of them have been walking down together for several decades now.

That’s not to say that the two married photographers are putting out the same kind of books, though. Far from it.

Shell’s is called Hope, Never Fear: A Personal Portrait of the Obamas, and it collects the best moments from her decade spent photographing Barack and Michelle Obama and their family. Shell captured the Obamas before, during, and after their rise to the White House, so there are moments of touching intimacy and breathtaking scope in her book. The photos of the Obamas relaxing in their home are just as moving as the ones of the couple and their children onstage in front of tens of thousands of people.

Musi’s book is a bit smaller in scale. It’s called The Year of the Dogs, and it’s a fun, playful collection of his dog photographs, paired with his own written musings about the pups.

“Luka is a very famous great dane,” Musi writes next to a beautiful photo of Luka standing at attention, “ranking somewhere up there with Lassie and Toto on the canine celebrity scale. Fame has not gone to Luka’s head, although it’s rumored she is endorsing a line of plus-sized dog collars and recording a duet with Tony Bennett.”

Both Musi and Shell nurtured a love of photography throughout their childhood years (though Shell started a little later than Musi, in her teens), and they both eventually met while working at a now-defunct newspaper called The Pittsburgh Press. After the paper shut down in the early 1990s, the couple moved to Washington as Shell found work in political photography.

“I was offered a job at the White House under the Clinton-Gore administration,” Shell says. “I thought I’d stay at the White House for a year, but it ended up being eight years, and then I went to work for Time magazine and CNN.”

And what did Musi do? “I waited for her to come home every day,” he says with a laugh, though his career soon picked up. He took a one-day assignment for National Geographic in 1993 and has worked for the magazine ever since, covering everything from hurricanes to volcanoes to mummies, and becoming especially skilled at animal portraiture.

Shell began taking photos of Barack Obama for Time magazine in 2004, during John Kerry’s presidential campaign, and her first photo essay about the future president was printed in Time in 2006. Many of her photos were used in the magazine’s best-selling 2008 hardcover book, President Obama: The Path to the White House.

Over time the Obamas and their campaign staff developed such a strong connection with Shell that she was offered a job in Obama’s White House as a photographer. But she turned it down because she wanted to raise her young son, Hunter, and because they’d moved away from D.C. to Charleston.

As Hunter reached his teens, Musi also decided he wanted to be closer to home. He just had to figure out a way to make a living without traveling the world for National Geographic.

“We were trying to not get on airplanes for the first time,” he says. “Our kid had just turned sixteen, and we were trying to figure out how we were going to spend the last two years with him before he went to college. And I just had this bright idea that I could photograph dogs.”

Musi’s plan, to use the animal-photography techniques he’d spent more than 20 years using at National Geographic on man’s best friend, didn’t work out at first.

“I don’t know what I was thinking from a business standpoint,” he says with a laugh, “but it seemed like a good idea at the time. I had all of this equipment, and I figured everybody would flock to my door to have me photograph their dogs. That was not the case.”

Business stayed slow until Musi took his idea to an annual gathering of contributing National Geographic photographers.

“There are about 100 of us, and everyone’s trying to do something big,” he says. “One guy might be trying to save the world’s sharks, or one is concerned about global warming, or somebody might have photographed The Beatles for 25 years. I just got up and said, ‘I’ve been in the doghouse for so long that I thought I’d show you guys what it looked like,’ and showed them about six dog pics, and to my surprise, people were really into it.”

Soon, Musi was actually the subject of a National Geographic article rather than the photographer for one, and that article, combined with his creating an Instagram account to feature his ever-growing collection of dog portraits, eventually kickstarted his career.

“It really cranked up around 2018 when I began posting publicly,” he says. “It only became what it is today because of Callie and Hunter encouraging me to post and to begin writing about the dogs.”

Eventually, Musi struck a deal with Chronicle Books and another publishing company, Blackwell & Ruth, to co-publish The Year of the Dogs, which is where Shell comes back into the story. As it turns out, Chronicle had previously spoken with her about publishing a book of her photos of the Obamas, though it hadn’t worked out.

“They wondered why Callie’s book had never been published before, and they made an offer to do that as well,” Musi says. “So it was really serendipitous; there was not a lot of strategy involved.”

“It was originally going to be about the campaign and then when they went to the White House,” Shell says. “But we thought it would be a better book to show how he went from 2004, before he was a U.S. senator, to the White House. When we said yes, we didn’t realize the books were going to come out within two weeks of each other. It was nice to be in the bookstores at the same time; that doesn’t happen much.”

When asked what their favorite photos in their respective books are, both Musi and Shell are reluctant to pick just one, for different reasons.

“It would be unfair to the other dogs to like one more than the other,” Musi says. “I think more about the people who bring the dogs. We’ve had people fly here or drive thousands of miles; one woman came all the way from near the Mexican border. So we tend to remember those people and those relationships the most.”

“I feel really strongly about the pictures of Barack and Michelle in their home with Sasha and Malia in 2006,” Shell says. “There’s also a photo of him at a rest stop in Illinois, and it’s just him, with this landscape behind him; there’s no Secret Service, no press, he’s just talking to an older couple in a car. My favorite thing is looking at the progression of him by himself or Michelle with her kids, and then we go to these images of them at these rallies surrounded by hundreds of thousands of people.”

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