Exercise: Elliot Erwitt, New York, 1974

Before you read any further, look carefully at Erwitt’s image and write some notes about how the subject matter is placed within the frame. How has Erwitt structured this image? What do you think the image is ‘saying’? How does the structure contribute to this meaning?


New York, 1974: Copyright Elliot Erwitt

Magnum Agency photographer Elliot Erwitt is renowned for his humorous images of people and their dogs. There is something of the surrealist about his work and he combines a decisive moment with skilful composition and viewpoint. 




This image is no exception and there is much to glean from some analysis and reflection on the image, not least the composition that Erwitt has created. It is skilfully constructed from a low angle. There are both horizontal and vertical lines of composition creating a foreground, mid ground and distant ground which provide a depth and sense of place. This sense of horizontal planes is created through the use of focus and depth of field. There are also some vertical lines seen in the legs of the large dog and the human owner. There is also two scaled boxes one large with the legs in and one small with the small dog in. This alone creates a sense of focus and also differential power.

The image immediately present potential narratives that to me centre around the key element, the small dog  that stares out at the viewer. The small dog is the only subject iinthe image that we see in full. Although we know there is another, much bigger dog and a human in the scene we have limited information about them and we are forced to make some assumptions. It is in making assumptions we the view can construct a narrative.

There is an immediate sense of humour to the image but as I explore the image further it reveals more information. The simplest narrative is one of the family, the human and dog legs linked to the image of the small dog might suggest a family. This idea is simultaneously funny and dark. There is a strong sense of power and or the imbalance of power, the leash on the small dog is a clear signifier of differing power relations with the small do, however cute and central in the image, it is under someones control

The composition through its layers and use of relative sze emphasis this differential sense of power. As a final note the little dog is dressed up. Is this funny or is it demeaning, whose needs are being met by the dog wearing clothes, the dog with it’s own natural fur coat or its owner desire to make the dog appear in a particular way? In this there is something political too about this image. 

Erwitt looks for humour in his human/dog compositions, his framing and cropping and his ability to see the decisive moment reveal  some deeper messages about the human condition, our relationship with dogs and the absurd in the everyday.

I just love this work!!!


Erwitt, E. (2012) Dogs, teNeues, Paris


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