Exercise 4.1 – The language of photography (P.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?

New York, 1974 © Elliot Erwin

The main compositional technique used by Erwin in this image is the rule of thirds. Below is the image with a rule of thirds grid applied.

New York, 1974 © Elliot Erwin

Erwin has placed the small dog, the primary subject, roughly on the right hand vertical third and the legs of the large dog on the left hand vertical third. Looking at the horizontal thirds, the bottom third is foreground, the middle third contains the main centre of attention and the top third is the secondary subject and background. Erwin has also created a upward sloping diagaonal from the top of the dog on the right via the hem of the coat to the legs of the dogs on the left at the top of the frame. In addition to placing the dogs in the image on the vertical thirds, Erwin has chosen to compose or crop the image in a way that draws attention to the smallest creature in the frame. In doing so he has made a conscious decision to draw attention to the small dog and draw attention away from the large dog and the woman walking them.

I think in this image Erwin his showing his support for the underdog. In this image Erwin humanised the small dog by including its face, so that the viewer can engage with the eyes, and the hat the dog is wearing also helps make it look more like a person. By cropping out the heads an bodies of the large dog and the woman, the viewer does not engage or sympathise with them and so there is no emotional involvement with these elements; although if they were included they would naturally be the focus of attention, due to their size, and therefore would draw attention away from the small dog. Overall, Erwin is using the focus on the small dog and the contrast in size between that and the other elements in the image is used to make the point that small things matter.

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