In this extract from a text written by the Magnum photographer, originally published in a book of his dog photographs, Elliot Erwitt explains why dogs went from an incidental part of his photographic practice to producing some of his most famous works.
“I am a professional photographer by trade and an amateur photographer by vocation. Most of the time when I am out of the house I carry a small unobtrusive camera and I snap away obsessively at things that interest me and whatever I think would make a good picture. Until recently, I have never especially set out to take dog pictures but somehow dogs appeared in large numbers on my contact sheets. A few years back while looking through my inventory of pictures to assemble a retrospective book and exhibition of random photographs taken on my travels, I was surprised by the preponderance of dogs. Obviously, my sympathy for the creatures was deeper than I had imagined.
"I don’t know of any other animals closer to us in qualities of heart, sentiment and loyalty"
- Elliott Erwitt
Many of the dogs pictured must have looked appealing to me in their exotic settings, other dogs were appealing in reasonably well-composed photographs and some others seemed to transcend their easy obvious charm and to have allegorical connotations to us humans and our human condition. As I think about this now, my comments don’t sound particularly surprising. I don’t know of any other animals closer to us in qualities of heart, sentiment and loyalty. Some people say elephants come close. Personally, I find elephants too bulky, unwieldy and inaccessible for everyday photography and not at all cuddly or attractive with those big long noses. Besides, they do not roam the streets in every town and country like dogs do. And dogs make easy, uncomplaining targets without the self-conscious hang-ups and possible objections of humans caught on film.” – Elliot Erwitt, Dog Dogs, 2008.