World-renowned photographer Elliott Erwitt has photographed a wide variety of subjects, from major historical figures to Parisian passersby and poodles. Erwitt presented personal favorites and well-known pieces at the Harry Ransom Center on Thursday night.
Erwitt joined the Magnum Photos agency in 1953, and his photos will be archived along with other Magnum pieces at the Ransom Center.
Erwitt had a major impact in the world of photojournalism and society in general, said Steven Hoelscher, a professor and chair of American Studies and Geography.
“Few photographers have had a greater impact on American culture than Elliott Erwitt,” Hoelscher said.
Part of Erwitt’s philosophy is that the perception of the photo plays a fundamental role in the quality of the photo, Hoelscher said.
“Photography is the art of observation,” Hoelscher said, quoting Erwitt. “It has little to do with what you see but rather how you see it.”
Erwitt called himself a professional photographer with a serious hobby in photography and began his slide show during Thursday’s event with photographs of dogs that were taken outside of his formal job.
“I like dogs for many reasons,” Erwitt said. “I’m sympathetic to them, they are universal, they don’t mind being photographed and they don’t ask for prints.”
These photos showed many examples of his usage of interesting perspectives and context to create a humorous or surprising photograph.
Erwitt also showed photographs documenting historical events, which Hoelscher said played a major role in shaping the culture of America, as well as the world. Erwitt told the story of a time when he was in Moscow during the 40th anniversary of the Soviet Union.
“I took the very first pictures of the Soviet intercontinental missiles,” Erwitt said. “Nobody else was allowed to take pictures but I went through four security checkpoints and took photos. When I was found out, I rushed back to my hotel and developed the prints in my bathroom. It was my first real big coup.”
When asked what the most defining moment of his career was, Erwitt told The Daily Texan he is still waiting for it.
Photojournalism professor and fellow Magnum photographer Eli Reed said he saw Erwitt as more than a colleague.
“I’ve known him for so long, he’s like my best friend and family member,” Reed said. “He’s also the most honest man in the business.”
Photojournalism graduate student Spencer Selvidge said he enjoyed Erwitt’s ability to creatively portray subjects while having fun at the same time.
“His work is very strong in a photojournalistic sense, but he doesn’t take himself totally serious all the time,” Selvidge said.
“It’s what makes him, him.”
Printed on Friday, September 23, 2011 as: "Erwitt recalls photo-centered life."