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story.lead_photo.caption Shelter exhibit: Tammy Swarek puts the finishing touches on her Shelter Pets Project photo exhibit now on display in the Lobby Gallery of the South Arkansas Arts Center. Swarek and her photography partner, Tammy Michael, have been creating fashion photos of animals at the Union County Animal Protection Society and have significantly increased pet adoption rates at the shelter.

Janice McIntyre

City Editor

EL DORADO — They have a heart and a passion for dogs – especially shelter dogs.

That’s why Tammy Swarek, photographer and her photography partner, Tammy Michael, both of El Dorado, began volunteering at the Union County Animal Protection Society and started the Shelter Pets Project.

Photos of their fine art/fashion portraits of dogs at the shelter are now on exhibit at the South Arkansas Arts Center, 110 E. Fifth St., El Dorado, and one of Swarek’s photos, of Peggy Sue, has been named as a finalist in the 14th annual Smithsonian Photo Contest.

To vote for Swarek’s photo, visit photocontest.smithsonianmag.com and vote for Peggy Sue, who has made it all the way to one of 10 finalists in the altered images category, People’s Choice Award. Local residents and members of UCAPS can vote daily – every 24 hours – for Peggy Sue. The winner will be announced on March 28.

According to the Smithsonian website, over 48,000 photos from photographers in 146 countries and territories were submitted for the contest.

“We want to change the way the shelter animals are perceived,” Swarek said. “The common perception is that these animals are unworthy, discards from others or that they have health issues. It is true that most have been discarded and abused by people, but that has nothing to do with the animal and everything to do with us. We allow that to happen by not creating stricter laws with tougher penalties and insisting they are enforced.

“Every animal we have photographed at UCAPS is amazing. Each one has such a different personality and disposition. We wanted to showcase that and did so by dressing them up accordingly. Over the past year, Shelter Pets Project has become a viral campaign. We have had the privilege of photographing these dogs in couture fashion from top designers in New York City. These dogs are regularly featured on Vogue Italia’s website, as well as Vanity Fair, New York Post, Good Morning America and countless other media outlets,” Swarek said.

Peggy Sue is a 5-year-old Papillon that was found wandering the streets of Union County. After a month of multiple attempts through social media to locate an owner, no one came forward. She was then put up for adoption at UCAPS. “Peggy Sue soon found her new family and is in a loving home. When we first saw Peggy Sue, we fell head over heels for her. She had a royal appearance and she held her head high despite everything she had been through in the past. We decided she deserved to be a queen in her photograph.

“The response to the Shelter Pets Project has been remarkable. So far over 100 have been photographed and 80 percent of the animals we have photographed have either been adopted, transferred to another shelter or have multiple pending adoption applications,” Swarek said.

“Peggy Sue was a little shy at first so my partner sat beside her for her shoot. She was quite hyper so we took several images of her, making sure we had everything we needed to put together in post processing. The dress she wore was a children’s costume and it was quite large on her, but we were determined to make it work. We wanted the look of full volume for the skirt so we pulled most of the fabric to one side knowing we could use it for both sides of the image later,” Swarek explained.

“We clipped, pinned and fluffed the skirt until we were happy with the shape. Two base images were used to composite her portrait. One had the clothing the way we wanted, but unfortunately, she was not looking at the camera. The second shot we used was for her face. After compositing the images together in Photoshop, I selected the left half of the image, flipped it horizontally and created another layer for a perfectly balanced effect. This technique is quite common in editorial and fashion photography,” she explained.

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