Project 1: The Language of Photography
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 structer this image? What do you think the image is ‘saying’? How does the structure contribute to this meaning?
Elliott Erwitt was born in France in 1928. His family moved first to Italy and then onto the USA. He attended the Los Angeles City College and studied Photography. He travelled across Europe in 1949 but in 1951 he was called for military service. In 1953, Erwitt became a freelance photographer for Look, Life, Collier’s and Holiday. During the 1960s he was the president for Magnum photography.
Erwitt has photographed dogs a lot during his career, he has even published four books with photographs of dogs. He often pictured the dogs in humourous situations and imagined them having human characteristic, which is what he has done in this image. He shows the contrast between a small Chihuahua and a person but also another much larger dog. All you can see of the woman and the larger dog is their legs, which in the image have similar characteristics. He is comparing the dogs with the human, with the large dog the small dog and the person. This image was taken in New York in 1946.
He has positioned the subjects so that only the legs and feet of the large dog are visible on the left. But you can just see the dogs’ chest at the very top of the image. The legs of the woman are visible and you can see the bottom of her skirt. Whereas with the dog on the right, it’s whole body is visible, and it is wearing a jumper and a hat. This is the main focus of the image, which is positioned off to the right. The part of the image I am drawn to is the woman in the middle as her boots and skirt are dark whereas the background, the floor and even the dogs are a lot lighter. It does seem to balance the image out though as if the woman was on either side it would make the image look totally different. The image has a shallow depth of field as you can see from the background. Being in black and white the image has a timeless feel, it also shows up detail very well. I find the background is very bright behind the larger dog and the woman, almost overexposed. The composition of the image has straight vertical lines, made up of the legs, this gives the image structure. Erwitt said, “It’s about reacting to what you see, hopefully without preconception. You can find pictures anywhere. It’s simply a matter of noticing things and organizing them. You just have to care about what’s around you and have a concern with humanity and the human comedy.” He also stated, “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.”
I believe Erwitt is comparing the size of the large dog, the woman and the small dog. He is using the comparison to comedic effect. He is showing the huge difference in size as you wouldn’t usually put these together in an image. The structure of the image adds to the effect as the main focus is the small dog as you can see all of it, whereas the two other subject only their legs are visible again emphasizing the size different. Nothing else is known about the other two characters, so the viewer is left to make up their own minds. This allows for viewer interaction. I like this image as it shows an ironic take on street photography.
Creighton. Elliott Erwitt. [Online]. <https://people.creighton.edu/~sjg30403/bookreport.html> [Accessed: 6th July 2016].
Famous Photographers. Elliott Erwitt. [Online]. <http://www.famousphotographers.net/elliott-erwitt> [Accessed: 6th July 2016].
Magnum Photos. Elliott Erwitt. [Online]. <https://pro.magnumphotos.com/C.aspx?VP3=CMS3&VF=MAGO31_9_VForm&ERID=24KL53Z1OG> [Accessed: 6th July 2016].
Photo Forager. Elliott Erwitt. [Online]. <http://www.photoforager.com/archives/elliott-erwitt> [Accessed: 6th July 2016].