A new exhibition at the Ransom Center explores photographer Elliott Erwitt’s sparkling sense of humor.
“Elliott Erwitt likes children and dogs,” reads the last line of the photographer’s official bio. It’s a fact that has become readily apparent in his nearly seven decades of professional shutter-snapping, during which he’s captured everything from the world’s most illustrious celebrities—á la Jacqueline Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe—to your ordinary, everyday people, places, and yes, four-legged friends.
Pursuing a childhood interest in photography, the Parisian-born New York transplant was invited to join Magnum Photos in 1953, and went on to work as a commercial photographer for Look, Life, and Holiday during the golden years of illustrated magazines. Since then, Erwitt’s career has spanned a variety of mediums: film, documentaries, advertising, and more than 20 books.
Despite taking some of the 20th century’s most recognizable “snaps,” as he affectionately calls them, Erwitt is perhaps best known for a signature style that slants toward the absurd. Together, he and his beret-wearing alter-ego André S. Solidor (abbreviated to A.S.S.) satirize the pretentiousness of his contemporaries. “I’m serious about not being serious,” he once told an interviewer.
“There is an intangible quality that runs through all his work,” says Jessica S. McDonald, the Ransom Center’s Nancy Inman and Marlene Nathan Meyerson Curator of Photography. “A subtle sparkle that tells you it’s a photograph by Elliott Erwitt.”
Culled from nearly 50,000 black-and-white prints in the Harry Ransom Center’s Elliott Erwitt Photography Collection, Elliott Erwitt: Home Around the World will be on display through Jan. 1, 2017.
“I observe, I try to entertain, but above all I want pictures that are emotion. If it’s not personal, then it misses what interesting photography is about.”
Photos (from second-to-top): This Phillips Exeter Academy class president and lacrosse captain was photographed for a 1956 story in Holiday magazine; Vice President Richard Nixon and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev’s heated “Kitchen Debate” in 1959—one of Erwitt’s most famous photos; a family portrait taken by Erwitt for a series of MONY Life Insurance ads in 1962; a self-portrait taken by Erwitt during a trip to Ireland; a photograph from Erwitt’s first solo exhibition, held in New Orleans in January 1948. After wrapping up his photography courses at Los Angeles City College in 1947, he traveled the country via Greyhound bus for the remainder of the year. This shot was taken in Chicago.
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