Another esteemed member of the prestigious photo agency Magnum, French photographer Elliott Erwitt is known for his monochrome snaps of candid everyday moments, often in ironic and absurd situations. Find out more about the influential photographer in this installment of Icons in Focus.
Born in Paris in 1928 to Russian immigrant parents, Elliott Erwitt grew up in Milan then moved to the United States with his family in 1939. He became interested in photography during his teenage years in Hollywood, prompting him to work in a commercial darkroom and later experiment with photography at Los Angeles City College. Erwitt moved to New York in 1948 and decided to take film classes instead at the New School for Social Research. He finished his classes two years later.
While travelling in France and Italy in 1949, he was accompanied by his trusty Rolleiflex camera. He was drafted for military service in 1951 and served an Army Signal Corps unit in Germany and France, where he also took photographer duties.
During his time in New York, Erwitt met Robert Capa, Edward Steichen, and Roy Stryker, famous photographers who influenced him and his work. Stryker, former director of the Farm Security Administration’s photography department, hired Erwitt for a photography project for the Standard Oil Company. Then, he started working as a freelance photographer, producing work for Collier’s, Look, Life, and Holiday. Erwitt joined Magnum Photos in 1953, which allowed him to take on projects across the globe.
Erwitt became known for his simple yet evocative photography, his mastery of Henri Cartier-Bresson’s “decisive moment” allowing him to present slices of everyday life but made interesting with the presence of ironic and absurd elements. A recurring subject throughout his career is dogs, which also inspired him to produce four books on the subject: Son of Bitch (1974), Dog Dogs (1998), Woof (2005) and Elliott Erwitt’s Dogs (2008).
On photography, Erwitt said:
“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.”
Check out these articles in the Magazine to find out more about Elliott Erwitt’s works: