Elliott Erwitt

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Known for his satirical humour and sharp wit, Elliott Erwitt rose to prominence after he was invited to join Magnum Photos by founding member Robert Capa in the 1950s. He has since become one of the world’s most successful and influential photographers, having produced over twenty retrospective photography books and been honoured by numerous solo shows at establishments such as the Smithsonian, the Museum of Modern Art and the Art Institute of Chicago.

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Artist Biography

Elliott Erwitt

B. 1928

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Elliott Erwitt was born in Paris in 1928. Emigrating to the United States in 1939, Erwitt grew up in California, studying photography at Los Angeles City College, before moving to New York upon graduation. There he met influential photographers, Edward Steichen, Robert Capa and Roy Stryker. He worked with Stryker on an award-winning project to document the modernisation of Pittsburgh for the Mellon Foundation. Steichen had recently been appointed director of the department of photography and the Museum of Modern Art and would go on to curate the hugely significant The Family of Man exhibition in 1955 in which Erwitt’s photograph of his wife, his six-day-old daughter, Ellen, and their cat, Brutus, was included.

Elliott Erwitt SOL LDN
Elliott Erwitt SOL LDN

    Erwitt joined Magnum Photos, at the invitation of Capa, a founder of the recently established agency alongside Henri Cartier-Bresson and David “Chim” Seymour. Erwitt has since served three terms as the president of Magnum. His reputation grew as he undertook important assignments including “the kitchen cabinet debate” between President Richard Nixon and Soviet Premier Nikita Krushchev in 1959 and the funeral of John F. Kennedy at which he captured the president’s widow, Jackie Kennedy, crying behind a black veil. Other notable figures to have been photographed by Erwitt include Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, Humphrey Bogart, Jack Kerouac and Grace Kelly.

    Known for his dog portraits, much of Erwitt’s photography centres on humour and irony. Along with his “business” camera, Erwitt would carry a “hobby” camera, a Leica M3 with a 50mm standard lens, loaded with Kodak Tri-X or Ilford HP4, on which he took many of his most famous images. During the 1970s he made short films, television advertisements and documentaries, including the award-winning Glassmakers of Heart, Afghanistan (1977).

    Erwitt has published over twenty books and has held solo exhibitions at the Smithsonian Institute, Washington DC; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; and the Art Institute of Chicago. In 2015 he was awarded the Outstanding Contribution to Photography Award by the World Photography Organisation. He lives and works in New York.

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