“A picture is worth a thousand words. It’s an old cliché, but it’s true. I think you should look at pictures and not have silly explanations about why and where and so forth. Get your information visually and not by words.” Elliott Erwitt is not entirely comfortable talking about his work. He clearly feels awkward when answering my questions, not really knowing how to articulate what he captures visually. “You look at the pictures – that should be sufficient, I think,” he says.
I ask him to talk about his iconic Paris image taken in 1989. “It’s a picture I took on assignment, for an advert. I think it was for an insurance company, I don’t know. I don’t even know what happened last week. I had a number of pictures that were done for that campaign and this was one of them – I don’t remember if it was used or not.” I press him for more information. “Well, obviously it was an arranged picture.” A pause. “And it was cast…and arranged,” he says. This is interesting in itself, a Magnum photographer confessing to the creation of an image.
I move on to another iconic image of his USA, New York City, 1950. “What can I tell you?” he ponders. “I was just walking along with a camera as I often do, and I saw this situation, took a picture then walked off. There’s no magic to it.” So it was a real fight happening in the street? “That’s right.”
With a career spanning over 60 years, Erwitt lets his images do the talking. “I’m a commercial photographer with a hobby, which happens to be photography. I keep the two things separate – usually. Lately I have been working mostly on personal work – books and that sort of thing, exhibitions. I have a big show opening up in Paris next month. It’s going to be a retrospective – pictures from the late forties until recently and a lot of vintage prints as well.
“Books are my main interest. I seem to have come out with two a year for the last few years. This year’s was called Elliott Erwitt’s Rome, with pictures I’ve taken in Rome over the years. I’ve also done a book under an assumed name, André S Solidor, entitled The Art of André S Solidor. Why do you use a pseudonym? “Because it’s stupid work. It’s making fun of the art scene.”
Erwitt has no preference between his personal and commercial work. “I like both. Some of my colleagues are ashamed of what they do commercially, but I’m not,” he says.
Any last words? “ I think you should look at pictures and not have silly explanations about why and where and so forth. Get your information visually and not by words.” Enough said.
© Grant Scott 2016