Reading photographs – Project 1: The language of photography – Exercise


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?

Elliott Erwitt, New York, 1974

Elliott Erwitt, New York, 1974


  •  The main subject is placed on an intersection of thirds (according to the ‘Rule of Thirds’), and a theme of 3’s follows. There are 3 characters and 3 layers of depth (foreground, middle distance and distance) from the bottom to the top of the frame.
  • Erwitt has made use of strong verticals and horizontals which create a feeling of structure and balance. There is also some rhythm to the photo, as we read it from left to right, finishing with the subject which acts as a ‘full-stop’.
  • The camera is at the subjects level, giving it far more significance. The crop has been made to make the large dogs legs appear as if they were a persons which adds a witty twist.

I get the feeling that Erwitt has a real fondness for dogs. Here, he has given the smallest of 2 dogs the focus given that it is probably overlooked next to its companion. He has gotten down to its level, making it an equal to the viewer. The structure of the image tells me that dogs are an important element of his life, perhaps more so than humans. I think that the image is commenting on our complex and varied relationship to dogs. That they can come in all shapes & sizes, that they can fill a void and that they are an integral part of our lives and society.

This is interpreted from the composition, where on the left, the large dog appears to take the place of a partner, and on the right, the small dog is a substitute child. The stability and balance of the image add to these connotations.