Elliott Erwitt has been my favourite photographer for as long as I can remember. This is not a bio on Erwitt, for that visit Magnum Photos. Rather it’s simply how an artist has influenced me, and my photography career.
In Erwitt’s personal work, I love his wit, use of juxtaposition, irony and sense of humour. Best known for his photography of dogs, and many fine art books on the subject, of which I owned many.
Always with camera, Erwitt would be on the lookout for interesting images. Luck plays a lot when fishing for images, however being prepared, and having a camera ready, along with the eye of an artist and comedian, greatly increases your chances.
For his commercial work, I have immense respect for Erwitt’s business acumen, success, and stance on copyright. Erwitt is represented by the prestigious Magnum Photo Agency. Magnum, like Erwitt, has been an inspiration for me. A collective of photographers best known for photojournalism, Magnum was created to represent photographers and their rights.
During meetings with photo buyers, Erwitt is said to have worn a badge that read, “Auctoris Ius Sacrosanctum”. When asked by the person negotiating the work Erwitt would explain it’s Latin for, “Copyright is Sacred”, making his position on the matter quite clear.
Erwitt was president of the agency, and I’ve been told along with Martin Parr, helped keep Magnum afloat thanks to their lucrative advertising work.
I was fortunate to meet Erwitt several times, watch him work, and hear him speak about his photography. My meetings with him were by happenstance, which seems the most appropriate way to meet someone like Erwitt.
One chance meeting was in Ted’s Camera Store buying film. Only two people in the crowded shop recognised him. My fiancé, now wife, didn’t understand why I was suddenly so nervous. After all, I’ve photographed many famous people, celebrities, politicians, so who was this person that so affected me? I sheepishly asked for his autograph, only after much persuasion.
The last time I saw Erwitt was in 1995, on the streets of Bondi Beach. My fiancé insisted I approach and ask to have a photo taken with him, on my trusty old rangefinder camera.
Elliot Erwitt passed away on 29 November, 2023.