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Elliott Erwitt

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In this film, “Unseen” we visit photographer and filmmaker Elliott Erwitt during his exhibition at the “Flo Peters Gallery” in Hamburg, Germany. Erwitt takes us on a visually stimulating journey through time as he walks and talks us through the gallery, commenting on several pieces of his finest work. He eclectically shares with us a humanistic, witty, and personal side of himself that enthralls, surprises, and entertains. Erwitt discuss in detail some of his early advertising work and divulges a little trick he used that can actually be seen in an end shot. In addition, Erwitt shows us other “once in a lifetime moment” photos, like the funeral of John F. Kennedy and the photograph of JFK’s grieving widow Jackie Kennedy. Other images stand out due to their placement, just as Erwitt himself stands out in this interview. He wears a plastic “sunny-side up” egg pinned to his lapel, which therefore, one might think he is a comedian or an odd fellow. But it’s exactly this transcending quirkiness that makes us so fond of Erwitt and his work. He himself says in this interview, “a picture is worth a thousand words” and the plastic egg on his lapel befits this phrase absolutely. He goes on to show us his shootings with Marilyn Monroe, pointing out that he placed her portrait next to a portrait of a dog in the gallery. Was there a connection to be discovered? No, it’s just simply that Erwitt is the opposite of mundane and has a multifarious approach to his work, and it is this approach that holds our interest at apex levels. Erwitt third book, “Unseen”, hence the movie title, is a book of rediscovered, overlooked, and never before seen photos from his archives. He describes the process in making the book as depressing and interesting; depressing because he comes across old mistakes he made in photography, and interesting because he comes across rare gems of unusual photos, some more than fifty years old. Erwitt was born in Paris in 1928 to Russian parents. In 1939 he emigrated to the United States, together with his family. And as a teenager living in Hollywood, he discovered his interest in photography while working in a commercial darkroom before taking photography classes at Los Angeles City College. In 1948 he moved to New York and began studying film at the New School for Social Research. In 1953 Erwitt joined Magnum Photos and worked as a freelance photographer and in the late 1960s he served as Magnum's president for three years. Erwitt became known for kind irony, and for a well-proportioned sensibility, which was traditional to the spirit of Magnum. In the 1970s he then turned to film. At first documentaries, then in the 1980s he produced eighteen comedy films for Home Box Office, (HBO) in the United States. Erwitt’s work is centered primarily on the observation of people, his pictures capturing life's most intense moments. One of the most accomplished photographers of his generation, Erwitt describes himself as a professional photographer by trade and an amateur photographer by vocation. What led to his fame and longevity can be accredited to a single image and being at the right place at the right time; the kitchen debate photograph, taken in 1959 of Krushchev and Nixon arguing and grandstanding in front of a refrigerator. With his signature style and wit, his images tell the viewers, stories of the famous and the ordinary, the strange and the prosaic. He was quoted having said, “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."


One of the Greats!!

I never heard of Elliott Erwitt until now by watching this video... I will also never forget Elliott Erwitt from this moment on... He is truly inspiring & I hope to find/acquirer his photo essay books in the very near future! Thank you for introducing me to Elliott Erwitt & his work which again, is truly inspiring!! Peace... Thomas Rutherford (Photographer, Filmographer, & Digital Editor...)