Photography Masters - Elliott Erwitt 
Sunday Magazine

Photography Masters - Elliott Erwitt 

Siddharth S. Kumar

Siddharth S. Kumar

Elliott Erwitt is, perhaps, the first photographer, who brought humour and wit into photography. Born in 1928 to Russian parents, Erwitt became a member of the famous Magnum Photos while in his 20s and worked as a freelancer for Collier’s, Look, LIFE, Holiday…

Over the decades, Erwitt has become the world’s most acclaimed photographers with over twenty retrospective photography books under his belt, and has been invited to numerous solo shows by the Smithsonian, Art Institute of Chicago, Museum of Modern Art, Huxley-Parlour Gallery, among others.

Paris, France, 1989. This photo has many focal points and it uses these to guide the eyes through the photograph. The main focal points are a person jumping with an umbrella and the couple hugging each other with overturned umbrellas. Both create a sense of tension as it contains a frozen action. In the horizon, the iconic Eiffel Tower can be seen further adding a sense of location to the photo.

Generally, Erwitt is recognized as an advertising and documentary photographer, with an eye for ironic and absurd situations within everyday settings. Interestingly, one of his frequently photographed subjects are dogs. In fact PG Wodehouse commented on his love for canine thus: ‘There’s not a sitter in his gallery who does not melt the heart, and no beastly class distinctions, either. Thoroughbreds and mutts, they are all there’.

But dogs apart, Erwitt’s stupendous body of black and white candid photography traverses a wide canvas—from famed portraits of Marilyn Monroe and Simone de Beauvoir to the much-discussed picture of Nixon and Khrushchev in a heated argument, to photo-essays from South America and Eastern Europe.

California, 1955. This photo uses an interesting perspective to communicate a story (the couple in a car parked near a beach) and the emotions between the couple.

After serving a three-year term in the late 1960s as Magnum’s president, Erwitt turned to films, producing several notable documentaries, followed by eighteen comedy films for HBO.

Erwitt has been quite reticent talking about himself despite his astounding output over seven decades. Says, the legendary photographer, Henri Cartier-Bresson, ‘Elliott has to my mind achieved a miracle, working on a chain-gang of commercial campaigns and still offering a bouquet of stolen photos with a flavour, a smile from his deeper self’.

Argentina, 2001. This is a dramatic photo of the iconic Marilyn Munroe which has an unusual angle giving it an informal/candid look. The hard lighting accentuates her features. This kind of lighting is often used for beauty shots.

Over the years, Erwitt married four times—his current wife being a German film-maker, who fell in love while making a documentary on him. Says Erwitt on the subject, ‘All of my marriages lasted seven years’.

In July 2019, Elliott Erwitt turned 90, still doing what he loves: taking pictures of powerful people and his beloved dogs. It has been a life really well spent. Joining Magnum Photos in 1953 as one of its long-standing members, Erwitt’s incredible contribution ranges from works on barrack life, post-war Pittsburgh and iconic celebrity portraiture. As the Magnum Photos website comments, ‘…it is his deeply humanist approach in photographing his subjects that has won him international acclaim. From his amusing commentary on beachside voyeurism to his teasing indifference to cats, Erwitt’s wry observations have continually fed into his photographs’.

While tomes have been written about his stunning contributions, the master has this to say about himself, ‘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’.


Siddharth Kumar, is the Co-Founder & Lead Photographer SIDART Photography, a professional photography venture focusing on weddings, portraiture and commercial photography. After an 8-year stint in an MNC, he decided to pursue his passion for photography and music. In 2019, he was awarded Certificate of Honorable Mention by International Photography Awards (IPA), Los Angeles. In 2014, he won the First Prize at the International Photography Competition organized by Mindshare Worldwide. He holds a Grade 8 Certificate in Piano Performance from Trinity College London.