Elliott Erwitt

Six Decades

October 13 - November 20, 2006

Press Release

"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 flavor, a smile from his deeper self." Henri Cartier-Bresson

Andrew Smith Gallery opens an important exhibit titled Six Decades by internationally renowned photographer Elliott Erwitt, with an opening reception and booksigning for the artist on Friday, October 13, 2006 from 5-7 p.m. Erwitt's photographs of ordinary life, beach scenes, celebrities, children and dogs have delighted viewers for decades. At age 78 he has culled through sixty years of work and chosen what he considers to be his very best photographs. Many have never been published before. These ebullient images reflect the vast scope of the wittiest photographer of our time.

Andrew Smith Gallery will have approximately 25 of Erwitt's classic photographs representing many phases of his long career. During the opening Elliott Erwitt will be signing copies of his newest book, Personal Best (teNeues, 2006). The exhibit continues through November 20, 2006.

Erwitt's superb sense of humor coupled with a deceptively casual photographic technique inspired the eminent photography critic, John Szarkowski, to remark that Erwitt is "one of the few photographers whose work is also identified by extraordinary wit." Traveling around the world on magazine assignments, Erwitt always found time to take the wry and timeless photographs of ordinary people and dogs that have made him famous. His photographs of Hollywood legends like Marlene Dietrich and Marilyn Monroe, and political figures like Nikita Khrushchev and Richard Nixon are equally penetrating and insightful.

According to writer, Sean Callahan, survival seems to be built into Erwitt's nature, along with the ability "to be an astute observer of others, highly sensitive to the vicissitudes of life and, when necessary, utterly charming and disarming." Erwitt was born in Paris in 1928, the only child of displaced Russian parents who raised him in Milan. When he was 11 the family fled Europe on the last boat out of free France. For several years he and his parents lived in New York City before moving to California. At age 16, after his parents split up, Erwitt was on his own in Los Angeles, attending Hollywood High while living in a rented bungalow with friends. After Edward Steichen arranged his first commercial job he established himself in New York the 40s and 50s as a leading magazine photographer. His friendship with Robert Capa resulted in his joining the prestigious Magnum Agency in 1953 after he got out of the army.

In his long and successful career as a magazine and advertising photographer Erwitt has used an arsenal of cameras. But the images he shot for himself were usually made with a classic Leica rangefinder and in black and white. He has remarked, "The most important advice to photographers is f:8 and be there." In his most poetic images something wordless and magical happens in a fleeting instant. In Orleans, France, 1952 Erwitt snapped the shutter just as a pigeon fluttered down to a deserted cobblestone street illuminated by a triangular shaft of sunlight.

Erwitt has shot annual reports of Fortune 500 companies, worked on six-figure advertising campaigns for Madison Avenue, and on breaking news for Paris Match. An assignment shooting women's shoes inspired him to take a closer look at dogs as subjects. New York City, 1974, one of Erwitt's most famous photographs, was taken with the camera near sidewalk level of a bug-eyed, rat-sized dog dressed in a knitted sweater and hat standing next to two gigantic pairs of legs, one wearing boots, the other belonging to another dog. The humor lies in the somewhat idiotic expression of the tiny dog which suggests it is the dwarfed product of a canine/human marriage.

In Erwitt's classic image, California, 1955, the reflection of a couple kissing in a parked car's side mirror is like a joyful bubble against a Pacific ocean sunset.

In 1960, on the set of the movie "The Misfits, " Erwitt photographed a team that included Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable, Montgomery Clift, Arthur Miller, John Huston, and Eli Wallach. The cast looks a little haggard, and even Monroe struggles to play her diva role. It was the last film either Gable or Monroe would make before their deaths. Erwitt said of Monroe, "Physically she was surprisingly unattractive; the beauty was manufactured. But she was extremely intelligent and sensitive. And likeable."

In 2006 several touring exhibitions of Erwitt's photographs were shown at New York's International Center for Photography, in Paris, at Japan's Mitsukoshi, and in Barcelona, Spain. Additionally, a major exhibition in Australia is being planned. His photographs have been collected and exhibited at museums including the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Smithsonian Institution, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Modern Art in Paris, and the Kunsthaus in Zurich. His photographic books include the comprehensive monograph Personal Exposures/Elliott Erwitt (Norton, 1988); On the Beach (Norton, 1991), and Elliott Erwitt: To the Dogs (Norton, 1992). Elliot Erwitt currently lives in New York City.

Liz Kay

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