Seriously Witty, Durango Herald, May 9, 2009

Elliott Erwitt’s photographs show his sense of humor

resize_article_imgThe benevolent irony of Elliot Erwitt’s photographs is evident in this photo taken in Paris in 1989.

“I’m very serious about taking pictures. I just like silly things.”

“You can find pictures anywhere. It’s simply a matter of noticing things and organizing them.”

Elliott Erwitt is a photographer with more than a sense of humor. His work often borders on the absurd, but Erwitt also has an eye for benevolent irony and a humanistic sensibility. Even at 80 he is still for hire and his long photographic career has spanned advertising, corporate commissions and photojournalism for some of the finest magazines ever published, among them Look, Life, Colliers and Holiday.

A selection of Erwitt’s photographs will be on display starting today at Open Shutter Gallery.

Like many photographers of his generation, Erwitt served as a photographer’s assistant in the Army during the 1950s while stationed in France and Germany. Born in Paris in 1928 to Russian parents, Erwitt spent his childhood in Milan and emigrated to the U.S. with his family in 1939. Living in Hollywood as a teenager he worked in a commercial darkroom and studied photography at City College Los Angeles. In 1948, he moved to New York and took film classes at the New School for Social Research and met Edward Steichen, Robert Capa and Roy Stryker.

After the army, Stryker hired Erwitt to work for the Standard Oil Company and commissioned him to undertake a project documenting

the city of Pittsburgh. Capa invited Erwitt to become a member of Magnum Photos and in 1952, when he returned from the war, he did just that. Magnum is an international photographers’ cooperative founded by Capa and French photographer Henri Cartier Bresson, owned by its members. Magnum photographers chronicle the world and interpret is peoples, events, issues and personalities.

A traditional fine-art photographer, Erwitt prefers black and white. His images are printed on fiber paper and he makes a point in his numerous books to inform the reader that none of the images has been electronically manipulated. Erwitt has published multiple books filled with images of dogs, a book of beaches, a book of images of New York, a book of museum-goers, a book of snapshots, a book of personalities. He is well-known as one of the photographers from Marilyn Monroe’s last film “The Misfits.”

The exhibit at Open Shutter includes one image of Monroe, several of Che Guevara, some of President Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy. But the images that are iconic Erwitt are the humorous views of everyday life.

“It’s about reacting to what you see, hopefully without preconception. You can find pictures anywhere.

“It’s simply a matter of noticing things and organizing them. You just have to care about what’s around you and have a concern with humanity and the human comedy,” Erwitt writes on the Magnum Web site.

Among the photos on display at Open Shutter are the image of a woman’s feet, the feet of a Great Dane and a small dog, a woman in Managua, Nicaragua, behind shelves holding two melons strategically placed, a man’s Charlie Chaplin feet and a jumping jack Russell terrier.

Dogs and humans seemingly joined, all because of the point of view. A terrific image from 1963 of two men viewing what appears to be framed blank canvases in a 57th Street Gallery in New York. Perhaps it’s the work of Robert Ryman, but the humor is not lost on the viewer. Another image of nudist art students in a figure drawing class with a fully clothed model provides a chuckle.

In the 1970s he produced several documentary films: “Beauty Knows No Pain” and “Glassmaker of Herat” and during the 1980s comedy films for HBO.

“I’m very serious about taking pictures,” Erwitt says in an audio essay on the magnum photos Web site. “I just like silly things.”

the city of Pittsburgh. Capa invited Erwitt to become a member of Magnum Photos and in 1952, when he returned from the war, he did just that. Magnum is an international photographers’ cooperative founded by Capa and French photographer Henri Cartier Bresson, owned by its members. Magnum photographers chronicle the world and interpret is peoples, events, issues and personalities.

A traditional fine-art photographer, Erwitt prefers black and white. His images are printed on fiber paper and he makes a point in his numerous books to inform the reader that none of the images has been electronically manipulated. Erwitt has published multiple books filled with images of dogs, a book of beaches, a book of images of New York, a book of museum-goers, a book of snapshots, a book of personalities. He is well-known as one of the photographers from Marilyn Monroe’s last film “The Misfits.”

The exhibit at Open Shutter includes one image of Monroe, several of Che Guevara, some of President Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy. But the images that are iconic Erwitt are the humorous views of everyday life.

“It’s about reacting to what you see, hopefully without preconception. You can find pictures anywhere.

“It’s simply a matter of noticing things and organizing them. You just have to care about what’s around you and have a concern with humanity and the human comedy,” Erwitt writes on the Magnum Web site.

Among the photos on display at Open Shutter are the image of a woman’s feet, the feet of a Great Dane and a small dog, a woman in Managua, Nicaragua, behind shelves holding two melons strategically placed, a man’s Charlie Chaplin feet and a jumping jack Russell terrier.

Dogs and humans seemingly joined, all because of the point of view. A terrific image from 1963 of two men viewing what appears to be framed blank canvases in a 57th Street Gallery in New York. Perhaps it’s the work of Robert Ryman, but the humor is not lost on the viewer. Another image of nudist art students in a figure drawing class with a fully clothed model provides a chuckle.

In the 1970s he produced several documentary films: “Beauty Knows No Pain” and “Glassmaker of Herat” and during the 1980s comedy films for HBO.

“I’m very serious about taking pictures,” Erwitt says in an audio essay on the magnum photos Web site. “I just like silly things.”

artsjournalist@mac.comLeanne Goebel is a freelance writer specializing in the arts.

If you go

The photography of Elliot Erwitt will be on display from today through July 15 at Open Shutter Gallery, 735 Main Ave., 382-8355.

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