Known for his satirical humour and sharp wit, Elliott Erwitt rose to fame after he was invited to join Magnum photos by founding member Robert Capa in the 1950s. He has since become one of the world's most successful and influential photographers, having produced over twenty retrospective photography books and been honoured by numerous solo shows at establishments such as the Smithsonian, the Museum of Modern Art and the Chicago Art Institute. He is represented in the United Kingdom by Beetles+Huxley.
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BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND, 1991 by ELLIOTT ERWITT (Born 1928) - photograph for sale from Beetles & Huxley




BAKERSFIELD, CALIFORNIA, 1983 by ELLIOTT ERWITT (Born 1928) - photograph for sale from Beetles & Huxley





Early Years

Elliott Erwitt was born on 26 July 1928 in Neuilly-sur-Seine, Paris, to Russian parents and named Elio Romano Ervitz. Soon after he was born the family moved to Milan, where he spent his childhood. With war looming and the family's Jewish background an increasing danger, on 1 September 1939 they took the last ship out of peacetime Europe on the Ile de France, arriving in New York five days after the outbreak of war. As Erwitt has said: "Thanks to Benito Mussolini, I'm an American."

Following the separation of his parents in 1941, Erwitt moved to Los Angeles with his father and began teaching himself photography. His father moved to New Orleans to become an antiques dealer, leaving the teenager to provide for himself by working in a bakery and photographing local occasions. Whilst studying at Hollywood High School Erwitt took photography classes. On graduating he went to work in a commercial darkroom, processing "signed" prints of movie stars. He purchased the camera of the moment, a Rolleiflex, and went on to study photography at Los Angeles City College.

Photographic Career

Leaving California at the age of eighteen because, as he said, "nothing was happening there", Erwitt took a Greyhound bus to New York. Becoming involved in the New York photography scene, he met influential photographers, Edward Steichen, Robert Capa and Roy Stryker. He worked with Stryker on an award-winning project to document the modernisation of Pittsburgh for the Mellon Foundation. Steichen had recently been appointed director of the department of photography and the Museum of Modern Art and would go on to curate the hugely significant The Family of Man exhibition in 1955 in which Erwitt's photograph of his wife, his six-day-old daughter, Ellen, and their cat, Brutus, was included.

Erwitt continued to photograph through the course of his military service, during stationing in France and Germany, carrying a Leica with a collapsible lens in the pocket of his uniform. He won a Life magazine contest for his photograph Bed and Boredom, in which a Private lies on his bedsprings, and received $1500 and a letter of congratulations from the commanding general.

Before leaving to take up his post in Europe, Capa had told Erwitt to look him up in Paris, and the young photographer duly presented the revered photojournalist with some of the magazine work he had undertaken. At the end of his service, Erwitt returned to New York and joined Magnum Photos, the invitation-only agency Capa had recently established with Henri Cartier-Bresson and David "Chim" Seymour. Erwitt went on to serve three terms as the president of Magnum and remains a member to this day. His reputation grew as he undertook important assignments including "the kitchen cabinet debate" between President Richard Nixon and Soviet Premier Nikita Krushchev in 1959 and the funeral of John F. Kennedy at which he captured the president's widow, Jackie Kennedy, crying behind a black veil. Other celebrities to have to have sat for Erwitt include Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, Humphrey Bogart, Jack Kerouac and Grace Kelly.

Known for his dog portraits, much of Erwitt's photography centres on humour and irony. Along with his "business" camera Erwitt would carry a "hobby" camera, a Leica M3 with a 50mm standard lens, loaded with Kodak Tri-X or Ilford HP4, on which he took many of his most famous images. During the 1970s he made short films, television advertisements and documentaries, including the award-winning Glassmakers of Heart, Afghanistan (1977).

Exhibitions and Publications

Erwitt has published over twenty books and has held solo exhibitions at the Smithsonian Institute, Washington DC; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; and the Chicago Institute of Art. In 2015 he was awarded the Outstanding Contribution to Photography Award by the World Photography Organisation. He lives and works in New York.

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