The death of Elliott Erwitt, photographer of the human… and canine comedy

Self-portrait, in New York, in 1998.

Reporter with an incredibly sharp eye, dean of the Magnum agency, Elliott Erwitt has achieved the feat of constructing a major work that is both humorous and absurd. “Being funny is more serious than being serious, he confided in 2010, during his exhibition at the European House of Photography in Paris. Or rather, being amusing does not mean lacking seriousness. I don’t joke with humor! »

The facetious American photographer, who was reluctant to analyze his work, readily offered witticisms or minimalist responses to journalists who came to question him. His hilarious dog photos or his very graphic shots, published in successful books, have tended to mask his striking political photographs, as well as the rest of his work in fashion, advertising, architecture, portraiture, or his many films. The photographer died at 95Wednesday, November 29, in his Manhattan home, after a career that lasted nearly seventy years.

Perhaps there was, in Elliott Erwitt’s refusal to take himself seriously, a desire to thumb his nose at a life that he knew was dark and unpredictable. This tireless globetrotter began his life in Paris, born Elio Ervitz into a Jewish Russian family who had fled the Russian revolution in 1917. During the terrible 1930s, the family traveled from one country to another: first in Italy, where she saw with fear Mussolini’s rise to power, then again in France, and narrowly escaped to the United States in 1939, a few days before the start of the war.

“I have been very lucky in life! »

Elliott Erwitt’s parents separated, and his father left: at the age of 16, the young man found himself all alone in Los Angeles. He worked in a laboratory, then began to take photos, of the neighbors, of the school dance… But it was in New York, after studying cinema at the New School for Social Research, that his career as an artist really began. photographer, interrupted when he was sent to the army. From this time on, he took photos that were both funny and bitter, like that of a black American soldier who happily stuck his tongue out at the photographer: “We were training in New Jersey. Half the guys were sent to Korea, and many died. The other half, including me, went to Europe and they had a blast there. I have been very lucky in life! »

Also read (1998): Article reserved for our subscribers The deceptive appearances of Elliott Erwitt

On his return, his career took off, and he traveled the world to fulfill orders from magazines like Look, life Or Holiday. The reporter Robert Capa, whom he met a few years earlier, asked him to join the Magnum agency in 1953, at the age of 25. Edward Steichen, the director of photography at MoMA, included one of his images in his blockbuster exhibition, The Family of Man : a tender photo, where a mother gazes at her child under the eye of the cat – it is the photographer’s wife and her daughter.

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