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?
The subject matter is placed centrally within the frame of the image with a low viewpoint, suggesting the photographer was either crouched at the height of the little dog or that the original image was larger and has been cropped. There are 3 subjects within the frame but we only see the face of the small dog, which gives visual weight to this particular subject; its importance is more significant. 3 is kind of a magic number in photography, a so called ‘rule of odds’; 1, 3, 5, 7. It is more visually pleasing to the eye.
All of the subjects are placed in the bottom third of the image with the small dog sitting perfectly on the bottom right hand side following the ‘rule of thirds’ or earlier known as ‘the golden section’. So if you were to draw the rule of thirds over the image, the image would sit snugly into the three distinct sections. The visual weight of the image is in the central third of the image.
On first glance at the image I assumed it was 2 people and a little dog but on closer inspection you I noticed it was a dog and I assumed that the 2nd larger dog may be on 2 legs. My final thought is that the larger dog is only partly in the frame with the front legs in the image and the rear legs off to the left of the image, as you are looking at it.
The image did make me laugh the first time I saw it, what’s with the little hat on the dog as well?! Its funny and a bit daft! I was then drawn to the significance of this little dog as the main character within the frame. We can’t see the face or body of the owner (assumed through the lead on the dog leading out of the frame) or the other larger dog. If they had been included within the frame the smaller dog would not have played the staring role in this image but as it stand it does. It is essentially, physically, the smallest subject but the framing and composition of the image makes it the most important part.
John Berger makes some interesting observations about our fascination with looking at animals in his book ‘Ways of Looking‘ which I feel are relevant:
‘With their parallel lives, animals offer man a companionship which is different from any offered by human exchange. Different because it is a companionship offered to the loneliness of man as a species.’ (Chapter 1 ‘Why look at animals?’ from Ways of Looking’)
On viewing the picture of the dog we would like to assume what the dog is thinking, ‘did she really drag me out of the house wearing this ridiculous hat?’ but we can only assume to know. The owner has almost tried to humanise the dog by dressing it up in clothing but it’s essentially an animal and we can’t ever know what its thinking.
- Berger, J, 2009. About Looking. UK ed.. Bloomsbury Publishing PLC.
- Erwitt, Elliott, 2007. Thames & Hudson.
- Peterson, Bryan F. 2012. Bryan Peterson’s Understanding Composition Field Guide: How to See and Photograph Images with Impact. Edition. Amphoto Books.
**Featured image: Elliot Erwitt New York 1974