Captivated by Erwitt.

In Influences by David33 Comments

Copyright Elliott Erwitt.

During my time in NYC I met Elliott Erwitt again. Not in person, but through his work. It’s been a couple years since I first looked at Erwitt’s work and for some reason seeing it this time made a significantly different impression on me. In fact, Erwitt kept popping up. The first time was in the Chelsea Market, an installation of his Italy work was there – probably about 30+ images. And then I saw his work on postcards in several stores, each time thinking I should really pick some up and never did. Finally I found myself in the Phaidon bookstore standing in front of half a dozen limited edition Erwitt prints, trying to will myself not to shell out for his deeply intimate photograph of a man – Robert Frank, as it turns out – kissing his wife in a kitchen in Italy.

Erwitt’s work has so many layers of Impact it’s hard to know where to begin, but the two that strike me most often are his sense of timing and his sense of humour, both of them often in the same moment – timing being one of the keys to great comedy.

I’m always of two minds about looking at the work of others. At the wrong time it gives way to imitation – good for flattery and even for a certain stage in the learning process, not so good if you stall there. But there’s so much to learn from others and how they see, and I couldn’t believe how utterly transported I was by Elliott’s work in Chelsea market. I stared at some of the prints, and while aware of the technical prowess they exhibited, it was so much more than that and THAT is where I want my work to go. I want my work to be so much more than the sum of its technical parts, so much more than just a bunch of layers of impact. I want my work to resonate with others the way Elliott’s does for me – because when I was done looking at his work and sat on the plane reflecting on it on the way home, I wasn’t thinking about how great the photographer was – I was thinking about the moments, and the magic of life itself: something heavily on my mind since a close friend discovered she had incurable brain cancer. Life is short and photography is a means by which we can expand it, reveal its hidden corners, notice even the most minute and fleeting moments. It’s not about photography, it’s about life. Erwitt does that for me and that makes him worth spending some time with.

See more of Elliott Erwitt’s work on his website HERE though the work on the website is not, in my opinion, anywhere near his best. But his books are on there and worth a trip to Amazon or your local library to spend some time with him.


  1. Pingback: Vision Traveler Blog | Tracing Elliott Erwitt

  2. I love Elliot Erwitt’s photographs. Strange how real they are and the content speaks so much little stories that keep you captivated for longer than other photos.
    I wrote about Elliot Erwitt in my dissertation giving brief details about him. I actually used the same image you have posted on this blog as an illustrative example for my writing, “Humor in Art Photography.”

  3. Hi David – I comment on this for two reasons, I too love Erwitt’s work and recently I saw some Cartier-Bresson at MoMa in NYC and was captivated by his work also. I agree they are masters of imagery we all strive for.

    My second reason is you mentioned your friend with brain cancer. I don’t even know if you read these comments or not but I hope you do and I hope it’s not too late to send her this link –

    If regular medicine has told her she has no hope, perhaps this group can do something for her like they’ve done for others in her position. What has she got to lose but life itself. I don’t know anyone personally that’s done this therapy but I believe in it and I’d do it if I was in her shoes.

  4. Powerful post!!!! Elliot Erwitt’s photographs are amazing – thank you for sharing the link. I have to check out his books.

  5. That resonance is elusive. I’ve seen it, I’ve felt it, but I don’t seem to be able to make it when I want it. Thanks for throwing out an esoteric idea to chew on.

  6. Hi David,
    The concept of “Layers of Impact” as you described it in the SAFARI ebook has me thinking differently about the tools we have and how they might be used more intentionally, creatively and interchangeably. (i.e., …”what if” I added a layer of humor to this photo? how could I…?)

    I appreciate humor in images, but I would not have thought of humor as a layer, if you hadn’t pointed it out here. I hope at some point in a workshop, 😉 blog post …or ebook that you will give us a list of potential layers, …in case there are some others I might have overlooked!

    May I just say that I am having a VERY hard time waiting for the end of the month for the new Craft&Vision, Vision&Voice & Eli R’s ebook on Reflections!

  7. I’ve been a fan of Erwitt’s work since the late 80’s. Wonderfully gifted photographer, that’s for sure! If you haven’t already done so, you should check out some of William Klein’s work. I really like his street photography! You can find some of his images here:

  8. I love Elliott Erwitt’s work. Back in the day (name dropping here) I was very close friend’s with his daughter, Ellen. Sigh. Long story. Elliot took a great photo of Ellen and Mom when she was a baby.

  9. like many others I too have long been captivated and influenced by Erwitt. Check out some of my images. He has the decisive moment of Bresson, plus the elements of irony and whimsy!

    Don’t overlook his long career as an Official Photographer of the White House. Cheers :))

  10. I think his fashion photos are his best work. The photo of the guy in the rain coat is shocking in a creative way and still is a fashion type photo. It is example of thinking outside the box, throw away the rules and social standards.

  11. What a magician. He draws you into his delightful view of life and you are not aware that you are viewing a photograph. This is what all photographers should strive for……the viewer gets a glimpse of your soul not your technique.

  12. “Life is short and photography is a means by which we can expand it, reveal its hidden corners, notice even the most minute and fleeting moments.”

    Indeed. Photography — the doing of it or viewing of it — is thus educative. At its height, it teaches us to see reality in all its factors, and thus live each next moment — even the ones without a camera in hand — more intensely. Because if this endeavor is only about making technically better photographs, then ultimately what’s the point? Photography then becomes a distraction from reality, instead of a means of entering into it more fully.

  13. Hi David,

    Just this morning I was interviewed about my favourite photograph. I answered the one you’ve posted above.

    Elliott Erwitt has influenced me so much and I’m indebted to him.

    Last year I flew from Ireland to Texas principally to hear him speak. I wrote about the experience here: (Hope that’s OK, please remove the link if it isn’t)

    What I see most in his work is his personality. He gives of himself in his work, which is why I think he is so successful.

    A true inspiration.

  14. Stupid IT filters at work gave me the “Content categorization: Entertainment;Nudity” message when I tried to pull up his site. I guess I’ll have to wait for this evening to check out his work.

  15. Elliott Erwitt’s photography was a big inspiration for me along with Diane Arbus in the past year. Looking at their work opened up a new world to me and helped to put me on the path to street photography. I am now working on a project where I capture the streets and people of NYC via reflections. For me It’s outrageously creative and soul satisfying.

  16. It’s not just the pictures of Erwitt I like. He has a fantastic quote on his magnum pages that, like you are so good at David, sums it all up for me:

    “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.” Elliott Erwitt.

  17. I was impacted very similarly by the Baroque painter, Caravaggio while I was in Italy recently. I appreciate his technical genius, but then you notice everything else that’s so much deeper. It’s hard for me to get some of these great inspirational artists out of my head (not that I’m trying too)… so thanks for paying tribute to one of yours!

  18. As photographers we have an amazing gift to give. To capture a moment and hold it forever. Whether we are photographing a portrait, a lanscape, astreet scene, anything, that moment will never pass again. I feel responsible to share that gift and continually seek to push myself to be a better technical photographer and an artist who shows more and more.

    Thank you for sharing your passion and for the reminder to make the most of every day.

  19. I love Elliot Erwitt. I’ve got his “Personal Best” book (or tome – its huge). He truely was a master of the craft.

  20. He has a lot of dog photos – maybe you can start with cats and work your way up. There’s hope for you yet David!

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