Among the celebrated photographers of the twentieth century, no other photographer became as well known for their sense of humor and witty images commenting on the world as much as Elliott Erwitt. Erwitt’s images often bring smiles and sometimes outright laughter in viewers by creating delightful moments through his visual wit and puns. Erwitt usually joins together seemingly different elements to make spontaneous flashes of comedy. Creating an informal style that is uniquely his own, Erwitt became an uncanny observer of others. Being highly sensitive and perceptive to the visual surprises in life, Erwitt possesses a deep appreciation of the moment and is skillful at capturing it.
Erwitt was born in Paris in 1928 and spent his childhood in Milan before moving to the United States in 1939. The son of Jewish-Russian immigrants, he lived in New York City for two years before attending high school and college in Los Angeles. While in Los Angeles, he was first exposed to photography in a commercial photography studio and then went on to study filmmaking and photography at Los Angeles City College. In 1949, he returned to Europe to further pursue artistic photography, where he traveled around France and Italy. In 1951, Erwitt was drafted into the US Army and again took the opportunity to photograph throughout Europe, specifically France and Germany. He eventually returned to New York, where he settled and met Robert Capa, Edward Steichen, and Roy Stryker, who would become guiding mentors for Erwitt.
Stryker was the director of the Farm Security Association’s photography department, and he hired Erwitt to work on a photography project for Standard Oil. Erwitt would then start a freelance photography career working for such publications as Collier’s, Look, and LIFE. Early in his career, as a young Magnum photographer, he recorded many of the 20th century’s most significant events and people such as Marilyn Monroe, Nikita Khrushchev, Richard Nixon, and Che Guevara. Robert Capa would later induct Erwitt into Magnum Photos. Erwitt would also serve as president of the organization for three terms starting in 1968.
Besides being a successful Magnum photographer who contributes to the organization, Erwitt is also an accomplished filmmaker and producer. He has made several independent documentaries and produced seventeen programs for HBO. He has personally authored over twenty photography books as well. In 2011, Erwitt was honored with a major retrospective at the Institute of Contemporary Photography in New York and awarded the ICP Infinity Award for Lifetime Achievement.
SELECTED MUSEUM COLLECTIONS:
• Museum of Modern Art, NY, US
• Smithsonian Institution, DC, US
• Art Institute of Chicago, US
• Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid, ES