Exercise 1 The Language of Photography


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 this structure contribute to its meaning?

Elliott Erwitt – New York 1974

The subject matter takes up the top two thirds of the frame, the bottom third is filled with the street which adds perspective – the subjects are a little way away from us, the viewer. The main subject is the small dog in the right portion of the image – his eye contact ensures that we engage with him first. The other two subjects take up left and centre stage and as the viewer we sit at just above ground level which again connects us with the dog and his world. The identity of the small dog, in his absurd hat and coat combo, is staring us in the face. The identity of the other two subjects in the frame can only be guessed at – a women’s leather boots? -the legs of a very big dog (at least in comparison to the little dog). There seems to be some power play here, the very small underdog, the middle man (the larger dog) and the boss (the inhabitant of the leather boots), perhaps the image is a metaphor for a familial or business hierarchy. The little dogs eyes look flighty and he looks quite forlorn, the larger dog stands tall with legs unbent or quavering an the black boots stand tallest of all. If the image had been framed differently and the low viewpoint changed it would surely take on a new meaning as there wouldn’t be the same eye contact with the dog and the other aspects in the frame could take over. I wonder if Erwitt decided upon these things when shooting or whether he simply saw a small dog alongside a very large dog and decided to take its picture, the fact that the owner and the larger dog were cut out of the frame purely incidental. Either way, Erwitt’s camera captured an amusing¬† and original view of the threesome before it.



Expressionless Photographs..

‘Can you think of any photographs that are not used as a means of expression or communication? Blog about them.’

Ideas: Clinical, scientific, forensic, medical etc although these are still communicative -I don’t think any photograph truly isn’t communicative, if only a little.

Extra Info: After reading ‘Criticizing Photographs, An Introduction to Understanding Images’ by Terry Barrett, as suggested by my tutor, I came across an interesting section about photographs that are not meant to be more than descriptions. The examples given were:

  • Identification Photographs (passports, ID cards, Visitor Tags, Driving License Photos, Stock Images)
  • Surveillance Photographs (CCTV etc)
  • Reproductions of Art Works (Exhibition Catalogues, Prints of Original Works etc)

The photograph examples listed above are supposed to be as neutral as possible and also as accurate as possible and therefore they are not meant to express or communicate in any other way other than to describe themselves without subjection.

Medical photography is meant to show the medical practitioner what is going on inside the body without trying to make the image look pretty or intriguing and is supposed to be incredibly accurate and to scale. It communicates something to the experienced viewer however it shouldn’t express or evoke the viewer of which it was intended for. Although I think that an unqualified viewer may find the imagery intriguing and if it were shown to them in a different context they would find it to express something unintended by the photographer. An example of this could include the French photographer Felix Nadar’s series of medical photographs of a hermaphrodite (one of the first photographed intersex body) that were originally excluded from public view and were restricted for scientific use and reference only. The images show the full body and genitalia of the subject from different angles and in different positions and once they were released for the public to view they were both descriptive and open to interpretation – they became something else as their audience changed even though the original context stayed the same.



https://monoskop.org/images/8/80/Barrett_Criticizing_Photographs_3ed_2000.pdf (accessed on 22/09/2017)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hermaphrodite_(Nadar) (accessed on 22/09/2017)