Mirrored Image: Elliott Erwitt’s Iconic California Kiss

10th January 2022
Elliott Erwitt, 'Santa Monica, California, 1956'

Words Ava Howard

10th January 2022

Read Time: 1 minute

Elliot Erwitt seeks to capture spontaneity and absurdity found in everyday life, turning his camera towards the playful and humorous for over 60 years. Throughout his career, Erwitt’s wit has allowed him to make keen aesthetic juxtapositions and visual puns. His work delights in reinventing the ordinary into something remarkable.

His photographs articulate stories through a single frame, presenting characters and embodying glimpses of their narrative. Santa Monica, California, 1955, encapsulates this idea, revealing an evocative scene that gives a tantalising insight into a private and intimate narrative. The image succeeds in seizing a moment of tangible elation within a composition that suggests chance discovery. This composition offers the viewer a snapshot into a car, with the side view mirror fixating the viewpoint on the joyful scene of a couple kissing. This compositional strategy of trapping the central figures in this mirror makes the most conventional of acts, a kiss, look fantastically dynamic. The sun sets in the blurred background of a beach in Santa Monica, the horizon imparting its light across the sea and leading our eye back to the central focus of the couple. This picturesque California setting, coupled with the joyful human expressions of affection, captures a chance moment that is utterly hypnotising.


This candid nature that emanates from Erwitt’s work, emphasised in Santa Monica, California, 1955, is derived from the concept presented by Henri Cartier-Bresson. In his 1974 book, ‘The Decisive Moment’, Cartier-Bresson regards the essence of photography. The concept refers to photographing a spontaneous event, the split second that divulges the great candour of a scene. As explained by Cartier-Bresson, ‘photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organisation of forms which give that event its proper expression’; similarly, Erwitt mastered this creative instant when a photograph is taken, encouraging, in the viewer, a sense of anticipation, and an invitation to share in a narrative.

FeaturedElliott Erwitt

Paris, France, 1989 Elliott Erwitt

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


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