On Photography: The photography of Elliott Erwitt.
Share this post with your friends:
Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn
Share on email
Email
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on email

On Photography: Elliott Erwitt, 1928- present

“The whole point of taking pictures is so that you don’t have to explain things with words.” -Elliott Erwitt

Elliott Erwitt is a keen observer of human humor. His photographs are endearing, heartwarming and oftentimes smile or even laugh worthy.

Early career

"Self Portrait", Paris, France, 1952
“Self Portrait,” Paris, France, 1952

Elliott Erwitt served in the U.S. Army as a photographer’s assistant in France and Germany during the 1950s. There, he met other photographers who had a great influence on him, Edward Steichen, Robert Capa and Roy Stryker among them. Stryker had run the Farm Security Administration’s photography department from 1937 through 1944. He hired Erwitt to build a photographic library for Standard Oil. Erwitt went on to be a freelance photographer where he did work for Collier’s, Look, Holiday and Life magazines. Robert Capa invited him to join the Magnum Photos agency. Erwitt became the agency’s president in 1966.

Moviemaking

The ’70s saw Erwitt turn to film, directing several documentaries including “Arthur Penn: The Director,” “Beauty Knows No Pain” and “Beautiful Baby, Beautiful.” In the ’80s he did 18 comedy films for HBO.

Dogs and books

Photo of Elliott Erwitt: Alex Watherhouse-Hwyward 1990
Photo: Alex Watherhouse-Hwyward 1990

Elliott Erwitt’s keen sense of irony, humor and love of puns along with his being a skilled observer with a fascination for photographing dogs led to the publication of five books of canine photos.

  • “Son of Bitch” (1974)
  • “To the Dogs” (1992)
  • “Dog Dogs” (1998)
  • “Woof” (2005)
  • “Elliott Erwitt’s Dogs” (2008)

Along with numerous other books, one that stands out as a beacon to Erwitt’s sense of fun, is 2010’s “The Art of Andre S. Solidor.” Solidor is Erwitt’s whimsical alter-ego whose initials purposely spell A.S.S. His most current book was published in 2017: “Pittsburgh 1950.” The book contains photos Erwitt made in 1950 when he was 22 years old. It was a commission from Roy Stryker. Erwitt documents Pittsburgh’s transition from industry into a modern metropolis. One of the photos is disturbing to say the least. It shows a young boy smiling at the camera while holding a toy pistol to his right temple.

To date, Elliott Erwitt’s book catalog numbers 25. In all of his books, he insisted that the maker of the photographs and not the publisher hold the copyright.

On finding photo opportunities

It’s about reacting to what you see, hopefully without preconception. You can find pictures anywhere. It’s simply a matter of noticing things and organizing them. You just have to care about what’s around you and have a concern with humanity and the human comedy.

Erwitt was there and took pictures

He has photographed a grieving Jackie Kennedy at JFK’s funeral procession through the streets of Washington, D.C. in 1963, Soviet General Secretary Nikita Kruschev with Richard Nixon in Moscow, Fidel Castro in the back seat of a car in Cuba and Marilyn Monroe with her windblown dress on the set of “The Seven Year Itch.” His career of photographs is one that is preserved in his books. He is well worth a long and loving look.

Recollections

The inscription of my copy of "Personal Exposures"
The inscription of my copy of “Personal Exposures”

I met Elliott Erwitt at the opening of his exhibition at Jackson Fine Art on June 9, 1995. He is an engaging, funny and delightful man whose work I have enjoyed since I discovered it in the photo magazines in the early 1970s. I bought his book “Personal Exposures.” He signed it to me with thanks for my purchase.

Read more mini-biographies of influential photographers on Photofocus.

Share this post with your friends:
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on email

You might also like:

Thanks to our partners who make Photofocus possible:

Drobo – Drobo is the smartest storage solution in the world. Drobo is storage that protects data — photos, videos and everything else — from hard drive failure. Drobo is peace of mind for the working pro or serious amateur who have a lot of external drives cluttering up the desktop. Save 10% with the coupon code PHOTOFOCUS.

Lume Cube – Proudly known as the World’s Most Versatile Light™, Lume Cube represents the future of LED Lighting. Check out the new Lume Cube STROBE, offering anti-collison lighting for drones!

Backblaze – Get peace of mind knowing your files are backed up securely in the cloud. Back up your Mac or PC just $6/month.

B&H – B&H is a world renowned supplier of all the gear photographers, videographers, and cinematographers need and want to create their very best work.

Skylum – Your photos, more beautiful in minutes. Makers of Luminar, Aurora and Photolemur, Skylum adapts to your style and skill level. Check out the new Luminar 3, now available.

Perfectly Clear Complete – Built for precision. Made for beauty. Perfectly Clear has mastered the science of intelligent image correction – creating superior quality photos in record time, so you can get back to doing what you really love…in no time. Special Photofocus deal here.

Viewbug – Learn and improve your photography with over 500 videos. Trusted by millions around the world, join over 2 million photographers who already use Viewbug.