Silhouetted Figures: Elliott Erwitt in Paris
07th February 2022
On his return from military service in Europe, Elliott Erwitt was invited to join the recently established photo agency, Magnum Photos, by one of the group’s co-founders, Robert Capa. Erwitt became a member of the group in 1953, and remains one to this day, having served three terms as the agency’s president. Founded on humanistic principles, the agency includes some of the most celebrated names in twentieth-century photography, including the father of modern-photojournalism, Henri Cartier-Bresson.
Erwitt’s, Paris (1989) is indebted to one of Cartier-Bresson’s earliest acclaimed works, Behind the Gare St Lazare, taken in 1932. Cartier-Bresson’s image of a silhouetted man leaping over a pool of water has become one of the photographer’s defining images and is frequently used to illustrate Cartier-Bresson’s theories of the ‘Decisive Moment.’ Described as the perfect moment when form and composition come together in front of the camera, Cartier-Bresson’s famous mantra has become gospel to generations of photojournalists.
Erwitt’s photograph similarly depicts a silhouetted man as he navigates the puddles of a rainy Paris. Erwitt’s image is exaggerated, the man leaps high, almost in splits, to avoid the pooled water. This hyperbole is only heightened by the apparent obliviousness of the couple to the man’s right, who are too pre-occupied even to care about their umbrellas that have blown inside out.
Typical of Erwitt’s style, there is a comedic element to the image. While the man jumps high in the air above the puddles, the structure of the Eiffel Tower in the background is partly reflected in the water. The tower’s structure appears like two stout legs, giving the impression that the tower is grounded in the puddle. Erwitt replicates Cartier-Bresson’s ‘Decisive Moment’ to comic effect, while equally expressing the humanism that embodies his work.
The ArtistKnown for his satirical humour and sharp wit, Elliott Erwitt (born 1928) rose to fame 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.Artist Page