Elliott Erwitt

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I have never been good with remembering the names of photographers. But after having spent the last hour looking through photographs by Elliott Erwitt its safe to say that that I will not be forgetting his name (or many of his shots) any time soon.  Mr. Erwitt was born in Paris to Russian parents who moved to the United States shortly after his tenth birthday because of the imminent outbreak of the Second World War.  In 1949 he travelled to New York City believing himself to be destined to be a professional photographer and the city can certainly be said to have co-operated.

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This photo by William Klein captures Cartier-Bresson’s concept of “the decisive moment”: the moment between having a gun pointed at you and having no eyes left to see with.

In New York City Mr Erwitt was able to train his eye to the style of life reporting that Henri Cartier-Bresson championed, where candid an flash-less shots would quite literally capture life in an instant.  The Decisive Moment was the name that Simon & Schuster gave to a book featuring Mr Carier-Bressons’s work and it quickly became the popular name for the photographing style that he and, later, Mr Erwitt employed. And what, you may be wondering, exactly is this decisive moment?  It is catching a dog looking at you with the perfect tilt of an angled head,   An honest photography, using what was happening in the world around them to document what it meant to be alive in all of its beauty, in all of its absurdity…and with plenty of dogs. [The connection is no coincidence: Mr Erwitt joined M Cartier-Bresson & co’s Magnum Photos collective in 1953.]

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In Erwitt’s photos there is often a feeling of joyous serendipity, the unconsidered patience that must be perfected to capture these “decisive moments” so effortlessly.  Mr Erwitt’s simple black and white photographs are the epitome of confidence with a medium and his body of work on the whole feels no need to capture any grand mysteries since there is more than enough to ponder by looking at the humans we share this life with and with subjects ranging from teacup terrier dogs to Jackie Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe we are also challenged not to think of any one subject as “better” than another.  He might not ever be as famous as Mr Cartier-Bresson but look though Elliott Erwitt’s pictures and see if you feel the same way I did: that by looking at his work I might be able to train my own eye better, to train it well enough to see the magical instants (the decisive moments) of my own life.  Who knows? Maybe once or twice I will have a camera with me to help me hold onto it longer.

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