Paris-born photographer Elliott Erwitt is among those photography masters that remain important and respected for his simple yet evocative photographs. If you're looking into drawing inspiration from the esteemed Magnum photographer, you should check out this installment of Lessons from Photography Masters!
Elliott Erwitt, who was born in Paris in 1928 and moved t0 the United States with his family in 1939, developed an inclination for photography during his teenage years. He pursued this interest and worked for a commercial darkroom in Hollywood, then proceeded to learn more about photography in Los Angeles City College.
During the time he moved to New York in 1948, he took film classes in the New School for Social Research and finished two years later. While in New York, he also met famous photographers Robert Capa and Edward Steichen, whom he joined in Magnum Photos in 1953. Erwitt also worked as a freelance photographer for Collier’s, Look, Life, and Holiday.
Today, Erwitt remains to be a respectable figure in the photography world, inspiring fellow photographers and artists both young and old with his works. His photographs of are simple yet evocative, showing his mastery of Henri Cartier-Bresson’s concept of the “decisive moment.”
In this installment of Lessons from Photography Masters, we bring you some words of wisdom from Elliott Erwitt which tell about his insights on photography, taking pictures, and his life as a photographer.
Photography is pretty simple stuff. You just react to what you see, and take many, many pictures.
To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place… I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.
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.
On taking pictures
If your subjects are eternal… they’ll survive.
All the technique in the world doesn’t compensate for the inability to notice.
Balance of light is the problem, not the amount. Balance between shadows and highlights determines where the emphasis goes in the picture…make sure the major light in a picture falls at right angles to the camera.
Be sure to take the lens cap off before photographing.
A visual sense is something you either have or you don’t.
The best things happen when you just happen to be somewhere with a camera.
The whole point of taking pictures is so that you don’t have to explain things with words.
On digital photography and digital photomanipulation
The problem with digital photography is it’s too easy, and when things get too easy, people get sloppy. And sloppiness is not a good thing in photography.
Somehow Photoshop and the ease with which one can produce an image has degraded the quality of photography in general.
I’m almost violent about that stuff — electronic manipulation of pictures. I think it’s an abomination. I reject it all. I mean, it’s OK for selling corn flakes or automobiles or for taking pimples out of Elizabeth Taylor’s face, but it undermines the thing that photography is about, which is about observation and not about manipulation of images.
On his life as a photographer
My ‘work’ is about seeing not about ideas.
Most photographers work best alone, myself included.
I’m an amateur photographer, apart from being a professional one, and I think maybe my amateur pictures are the better ones.
When I get up in the morning I brush my teeth and go about my business, and if I am going anywhere interesting I take my camera along.
In those simpler days, you could just take pictures of movie stars and show them the way they were, as normal human beings. And if I felt part of any movement at the time, it was just to do that – to be journalistic and photograph what is, rather than what is made up.
The work I care about is terribly simple. I observe, I try to entertain, but above all, I want pictures that are emotional.
Looking for more words of inspiration and wisdom from our photography masters? Why don’t you check out all Lessons from Photography Masters articles so far!