Elliott Erwitt has taken many photos that have become iconic. Some of them show humans, but the main subject of others is the man’s best friend. There are many dog photos Erwitt took and became famous for. And there’s no doubt that his images are recognizable and unique. In this video, Martin Kaninsky of about photography dives into Eliott’s personal history, but also into his recognizable style of dog photography.
Elliott Erwitt was born in Paris, France in 1928, but he and his family soon moved to Italy. In 1939, they migrated to the United States. He studied photography and filmmaking at Los Angeles City College and the New School for Social Research. He finished his education in 1950, was drafted into the Army a year later, and discharged in 1953.
Although he started taking photos way back in high school, Erwitt’s photography career started while he was in the army, where he worked as a photographer’s assistant. Roy Stryker was one of his major influences, and he later hired Erwitt to work on a photography project for the Standard Oil Company.
In 1953, Erwitt joined Magnum Photos and began a freelance photographer career. He took photos for Collier’s, Look, Life and Holiday. Interestingly enough, he is well-known for his personal work, including photos of dogs Martin talks about in the video above. In fact, dogs have been the subject of not only Erwitt’s photos, but also five of his photography books: Son of Bitch (1974), To the Dogs (1992), Dog Dogs (1998), Woof (2005), and Elliott Erwitt’s Dogs (2008).
Erwitt took his first photo of a dog in 1946. You’ve probably seen it: it shows a Chihuahua in a tiny sweater next to the shoes of its owner. From there on, he took many more dog photos that we know and love.
The thing with Erwitt’s photos is that the dog is often his primary subject. He captures dogs in interesting situations and doesn’t show them as the secondary subjects to humans. Actually, it’s quite the opposite. The photos have been taken from a low angle, to show the animal from its own perspective rather than ours.
In an interview, Erwitt once said that he barks at dogs to get their attention. As you can imagine, this would cause some interesting reactions from the animals (and I guess from humans, too). But it appears to have been working. Although he would try to address the dogs in their own language, he didn’t depict them as dogs. His photos made them look almost human, and Martin believes that’s the key to his distinctive images. What I’d add is that Erwitt did make dogs in his photos look almost human, but he didn’t cross the line making them look too human. In my opinion, it’s important not to go overboard in anthropomorphism when photographing animals, and Erwitt doesn’t cross that line.
Make sure to watch martin’s video for many beautiful examples and lots of interesting information about Elliott Erwitt. And remember it the next time you take a photo of your four-legged best friend.