Category Archives: 1 The Language of Photography

Part 4 – Exercise 1 – Elliot Erwitt


Elliot Erwitt - New York, 1974
Elliot Erwitt – New York, 1974


The brief for this exercise is to write notes about how the subject matter is placed in the frame, how it is structured, and explain what you think the image is saying..

I think the composition really works in this image. There are so many perpendicular vertical lines which form a distinct rhythmical pattern and which naturally you are reading from left to right (tree, dog legs, human legs, dog lead, mini dog legs) and then to finally rest your eyes on the main subject in the image.  The background and immediate foreground are pleasingly thrown out of focus and so don’t really feature at all in the photograph and therefore don’t detract. The photographer has got right down, almost to the ground, to be at eye-level with the smallest dog, rendering the other subjects just as a series of legs. I think the dog is saying ‘I know I’m small but I have 2 towering bodyguards and a heap of style in this hat, so you really don’t want to mess with me!’ .

The image reminds me very much of the 2 Ronnies’ sketch ‘I know my place’. In the famous sketch John Cleese, Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett are lined up left to right, each representing the different classes in British society which in turn is further emphasized by their differing heights:-

Barker; ‘I look up to him (looking at Cleese) because he is upper class, but I look down on him (looking at Corbett) because he is lower class.’
Corbett: ‘I know my place‘…….

The sketch then turns and Corbett goes on to say ‘I know my place.  I look up to them both, but while I am poor, I am honest, industrious and trustworthy. Had I the inclination, I could look down on them both. But I don’t’.

The image reminds us to not discount the diminutive little guy, he’s may well probably the boss, so don’t think he has any less power or authority, you will dismiss him at your peril!  Start with him first, the other guys are a waste of leg space and are probably getting vertigo way up there… It’s a lesson on ensuring we listen to everyone, not just the leaders but the little folk too.

It’s clearly an intentionally comical image, especially noting the fashion sense of the little dog and his pointed and unflinching gaze into the camera despite his stature and it’s a great example of the iconic and comedic black and white street images of the time.