If you were to ask me who my favorite “living” photographer is, I’d probably have to say Elliott Erwitt. Now 88, he’s had an illustrious career in photography and he’s a member of the international photographic cooperative Magnum Photos. (According to co-founder Henri Cartier-Bresson, “Magnum is a community of thought, a shared human quality, a curiosity about what is going on in the world, a respect for what is going on and a desire to transcribe it visually.”)
Erwitt’s photos are striking because they depict real life scenes in a smart and witty way. He’s a genius at capturing the “decisive moment.” Erwitt has a strong penchant for shooting dogs, in fact, they have been the subject of four of his books. I recently bought Elliott Erwitt: Personal Best and have been studying his style.
In the book’s introduction it says, “In the 1990s Erwitt was increasingly showing images-many that hadn’t been shown publicly since they were created in the late 1940s and early 50s-that put him squarely in the firmament of this revered period of fine art photography. They demonstrate a conscious breaking of the rules for the then-contemporary photographic standards-perfect exposure, full tonal range, sharp focus, traditional composition-coupled with an existential ‘tough love’ treatment of America, cloaked in the aura of the film noir motion pictures of the period that hung over this generation of photographers. And, like his peers of that time, there is the unselfconscious striking out to create a deliberate style or signature of his own.”
Isn’t that what we all hope to achieve as photographers? A distinct style that’s all our own? I love that when you see an “Elliott Erwitt” photo, you immediately know that it’s his. Now that’s something to strive for.
I leave you with this quote by him, “To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place… I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.”