Part Four Reading Photographs: Project 1 The Language of photography


Elliott Erwitt, New York, 1974 (Boothroyd, 2017: 98)


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?

Firstly looking at the image I see three pairs of vertical legs, however on closer inspection I see that it is two pairs of long legs on the vertical plane and then four shorter legs also on the vertical plane. These legs are the dominant feature in the image intensified by the shallow depth of field. The rule of thirds is evident in the image with the pavement occupying two thirds of the frame and the background occupying a third, as well as the placement of the legs. The long dog’s legs are placed close to the humans to trick the eye at first into seeing two pairs of human legs. My eye moves from left to right as is normal when reading and I settle lastly on the little dog looking comically small next to the other subjects. I am aware that Erwitt a master of street photography, is known to capture rather than compose, however I find it difficult to believe that there was not some forethought involved in this shot; he had to get down to the little dog’s level to capture the comparison of the small to the large, as well as the comical features of the small dog which render this image so humorous. I would be interested to see the image before it was cropped, it could be that Erwitt was attracted by the scale of the two dogs and then through cropping strengthened this and added ambiguity by cropping more details of the larger dog and the human.

The structure is essential to its meaning which I think is entirely humorous.


Boothroyd, S (2017) Photography 1 Context and Narrative. Barnsley. Open College of the Arts.

Please note: Any images by other photographers used on this site are accredited and are being used for personal research and educational purposes only.