Archive Fever: Decisive Moments

By Peggy Roalf   Thursday December 29, 2016

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

Elliott Erwit (b. 1928) might have added, “it’s about being there” to his summation of a life in photography. He is as concerned with the human comedy as he is with the human condition, a bias evident on his website, which promotes “life-like snaps” and can only be escaped by closing the window [how’d he manage that?].

While a certain drôlerie plays out across the spectrum of experience in Erwitt’s photographs, with a noticeable soft spot for pet dogs with their humans, he also captures momentous historical moments as they are being lived [see].

A photograph that was sold at a recent auction expresses his wit as it honors the historical influence of Henri Cartier-Bresson [1908-2004] on his work. A devotee of the Magnum Photos co-founder's Decisive Moment, Erwitt staged a photograph that honors the man and the phenomenon central to much of his own work. For bonus points, there’s also a nod to Alfred Eisenstaedt’s V-J Day, Times Square, NYC, 1945 [see]. 

Above: Elliott Erwitt, Paris, 1989. Left: Henri Cartier-Bresson, Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare, 1932. Photos: courtesy Sotheby’s, from Exceptional Exposures: 20th Century Photographs Online. Info

Born in Paris in 1928 to Russian parents, Elliott Erwitt spent his childhood in Milan, then emigrated to the US, via France, with his family in 1939. As a teenager living in Hollywood, he developed an interest in photography and worked in a commercial darkroom before experimenting with photography at Los Angeles City College. In 1948 he moved to New York and exchanged janitorial work for film classes at the New School for Social Research. [more]




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