Part 4 – Exercise 1 – Erwitt’s Dogs Image

Exercise 1 is about commenting on Elliot Erwitt’s “New York City, 1974” photograph (link)(1)

You could argue that the subject of this image is the small dog to the right hand side, but on it own this dog would be almost unremarkable, other than for the cuteness of seeing him dressed up for winter, which by now has lost its novelty value. The picture comes alive when we add the Great Dane to the left and the walker / owner of the dog, of which we only see the legs, in the middle. If you take the three elements into consideration, they are quite centrally located within the frame, which is interesting as we are missing the hind legs for the Great Dane (probably cropped out). Had the remaining two legs of the large dog been included it would have unbalanced the composition quite significantly, as the negative space on either side of the subject block helps the viewer focus. By deliberately cropping the image in this way, in which we only get to see the front legs of the large dog, Erwitt creates the illusion that we are looking at a couple walking with their “kid” in the park. The dogs seem to be “humanised” in this picture, with the one on the left being made to look like a person by virtue of hiding its rear legs and chest, and the small dog on the right having a “hat”, something one would not normally expect a dog to wear. Is Erwitt commenting on the transformation of the traditional family model in modern times? Is he making a comment about people choosing not to have children by choice and fulfilling the need for company by taking on pets instead?

The low vantage point of view also transforms the balance (and ultimately the meaning) of the image. If we imagine how this scenario would look from our regular viewpoint, we would have perhaps first take notice of the Great Dane and only later fix our attention on the small dog, probably only because it looks cute with its little hat. The low vantage point alters this completely, making the small dog the primary focal point, where our eyes go first. This also contributes to the overall illusion of the other four legs representing a couple, as we are only seeing a fraction of the visual clues coming from the larger objects.

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(1) Ken Johnson. 2018. Elliott Erwitt’s Photographs – Review – The New York Times. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/10/arts/design/elliott-erwitts-photographs-review.html. [Accessed 20 April 2018].

 

 

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