The great American poet Emily Dickinson said that the mountains grow unnoticed. While that statement may be true, they do not "grow" when being shot by perhaps the best of landscape photographers there has ever been, Ansel Adams. I certainly admire his work and come back to look at it again and again. On the other hand, I am totally captivated by those photographers who can turn a candid moment into great art. Cartier-Bresson was a master of the technique; surely no living practitioner is better at this kind of photography than Elliott Erwitt. While people present their own set of problems for a photographer who is trying to capture the moment, surely four-legged creatures up the ante. Mr. Erwitt in his latest collection ELLIOTT ERWITT'S DOGS shows that he is up for the challenge.
Shot from around the world-- the United States, Brazil, France, Germany, England-- the photographs span roughly sixty year or more. Mr. Erwitt apparently was just as good when he started taking pictures as he is currently. For instance, the photograph (14 - New York City, USA, 1946), taken when he would have been just 18 years of age, is just as intriguing as those from the 21st Century. These beloved animals are everywhere: at weddings, cemeteries, beaches, big city streets, automobiles, the ocean, doorways, the countryside, parks, a vet's office, and even with a president of the United States (President Lyndon Johnson). And while these dogs are often shot with two-legged animals, they are never upstaged by them. The pictures ultimately belong to the four-legged stars. Only rarely does a dog appear to be posed for a portrait. One exception to the rule of that is the dog on the second page of photographs (9. New York City, USA, 1999) in which the gorgeous pooch is sitting, wearing a rose necklace, looking into the camera.
Some of my favorite shots-- and there are many of them-- are of close-ups of mutts with only the lower legs and feet of their human companions so Mr. Erwitt says once again that this is all about the dogs, not their owners. The photographer often finds his magic moment as these animals romp at the seashore. Then there are the classic shots of the people leading their dogs into the horizon, as it were. Or how about the bikini-clad woman lying on her back with her pooch in a similar position on his back too (31. Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, France, 19677). A stroke of genius on Mr. Erwitt's part. His sense of humor is in evidence often too as in the dog checking out the two nudists (41 Ile du Levant, France, 1968) or making use of a vertical object (pole) for his bodily functions. (45. Berlin, Germany, 1995).
In his short but thoughtful introduction, Peter Mayle, apparently as much a lover of dogs as Erwitt, says that "When we were introduced, I wasn't sure whether we should shake hands or sniff one another. But once that had been resolved--we shook hands--it was quickly obvious that our shared interest in dogs would lead to friendship. Thus, as time went by, I became familiar with the artist and his work. " Mr. Mayle further states that there are three things wrong with most photographs of dogs, something that Mr. Erwitt manages to avoid: (1) most dog photos are posed, (2) or the dogs are too often "an accessory" to a human being and (3) they are purebreds rather than mongrels.
This great collection of photographs should appeal to lovers of dogs, lovers or fine photography and those with and who appreciate a keen sense of humor.