The word funny somehow doesn’t do Elliott Erwitt’s pictures justice, but the longer you look at his pictures they funnier they get. I’m not a big collector of other people’s photographs, but I do have two signed Elliott Erwitt prints hanging in my home and they have been bringing me pleasure for decades.
At the heart of Erwitt’s brilliance is the ability to see things other people don’t. He has been given the “ability to notice” like a gift from the photo gods. And although his technique is as good as a street-shooter’s technique can be, it’s only technique and he knows it. He is constantly in a state of hyper-noticing.
In the early 80′s, I worked on a book called A Day in the Life of China with 200 other photographers from around the world. We all met in Beijing and were then dispersed throughout the country. My jaw dropped when I found out that Elliott Erwitt was there—I completely froze when I shook his hand. There were photographer cocktail parties and a dinner before the work began. Elliott Erwitt was the only photographer there that did not stop taking pictures of the other photographers. He was like a little elf dancing around with his camera.
Based on his body of work, it was easy to assume that this is how he lives his life. He clearly understands that noticing is a full-time commitment, not to be taken for granted, and needs constant replenishment through practice. —Nick Kelsh
Elliott Erwitt, 1928, is an American photographer known for his ironic and absurd black-and-white street photographs. Born in Paris of Jewish-Russian immigrant parents, Erwitt served as a photographer’s assistant in the 1950s in the United States Army while stationed in France and Germany. Erwitt was influenced by his meeting the famous photographers, Edward Steichen, Robert Capa and Roy Stryker. Stryker, the former Director of the Farm Security Administration’s photography department, hired Erwitt to work on a photography project for the Standard Oil Company. Erwitt then began a freelance photographer career and produced work for Collier’s, Look, Life and Holiday. Joining the Magnum Photos agency in 1953 allowed Erwitt to shoot photography projects around the world.