Exercise: Elliott Erwitt

Elliott Erwitt

“To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place… I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.”


Elliott Erwitt. New York. 1974. Felix, Gladys and Rover

  • How has Erwitt structured this image?
    This image was taken from a very low perspective showing a cropped view. The vertical design elements are strong – the three sets of legs, the little dog’s lead, the tree trunk. Cleverly composed to exclude the large dog’s hind legs, at first glance I assumed it was two humans and a dog. The angle captures the little dog’s gaze perfectly forcing the viewer to look at it and just in case you miss it the first time the dog lead directs the eye straight to it! Erwitt has centred the subjects and focused using a shallow depth of field to blur out the background, adding a sense of depth to the image. The effect is 3D. I note the contrast is very sharp, whether the scene is staged or found is unknown.
  • What do you think the image is saying?
    The image draws the viewer to the little dog sporting a hat, telling me this dog is important and saying “look at me!” Its an old dog with greying hair and gives a sense that it is much loved and protected – identified by the coat and hat. He is not just a dog, but a family member. I wonder whether the larger dog also wears a hat and coat? The fact that the majority of the person and the other dog are cropped out of the frame implies that they are secondary to the intent.  For me it says small is beautiful, or just because the other companions are big, it doesn’t mean they are the best. It could also imply attention seeking. The image tells me it is a wet day, autumn (leaves on the ground), possibly cold too – the dog’s hat and the person’s long boots and thick coat. The dog ‘owner’ may be walking the dogs because the background gives us enough to imply a countryside or park location.
  •  How does the structure contribute to the meaning?  The image initially creates confusion and doubt as to what we are looking at. It is very funny and poignant.  It arouses curiosity because one cannot see the bigger picture. The image also gives us a sense of the photographer’s liking for dogs, or perhaps just his sense of humour. It may say more about the photographer and his outlook on the world.

I enjoyed looking at this image, exploring and interpreting. Our local veterinary clinic has this book in the waiting area for others to enjoy.  In his book ‘DogDogs’ (1995), Erwitt explains his images “are not pictures of dogs but pictures with dogs in them”.