“I’m an amateur photographer, apart from being a professional one and I think maybe my amateur pictures are the better ones.”
Advertising and documentary photographer (and filmmaker) Elliott Erwitt’s formative years were a journey that few people encounter over the course of their lifetime. As such, it shouldn’t be very surprising that Erwitt’s life has transgressed at a continually prolific rate.
After the Russian-heritaged Erwitt bounced from Paris to Milan, back to Paris, then New York, then Los Angeles, then back to New York once more, Erwitt fortuitously encountered photographic royalty in Edward Steichen, Robert Capa and Roy Stryker. The trio saw potential in the 20 year-old Erwitt, taking the time to mentor him for a spell –
Stryker, for one, enlisted Erwitt on a project for the Standard Oil Company. Inspired by his mentors, Erwitt returned to Europe once more, marking the start of his professional career. After a two-year stint in the military as a photographer’s assistant, Erwitt was invited to join Capa’s famed Magnum Photo Agency in 1953. Other members included Henri Cartier-Bresson, William Vandivert and Maria Eisner. In 1968, Erwitt would become president of the agency for three terms.
As a photographer, Erwitt is said to have the apt timing to take a photograph at just the right moment, a la Cartier-Bresson. Also like Cartier-Bresson, he has rarely stopped traveling. He has captured both the witty and the melancholy. He has also captured the erotic, including the famed subway vent scene involving Marilyn Monroe. On a personal level, Erwitt’s tendency towards whimsy and satire took him to as far as creating a satirical alter ego, a beret wearing, pretentious André S. Solidor (or ASS for short). Ass’s work was published in a self-titled book in 2009.
Over the course of his career, Erwitt has produced 23 books and dozens of individual shows. Dogs have been a common focus of his work, including his books To the Dogs (1992), and Son of a Bitch (1974). In 2002, he was awarded the Royal Photographic Society’s Centenary Medal and Honorary Fellowship.