Elliot Erwitt was educated in Milan, Paris and New York before moving with his parents to Los Angeles in 1942. After attending Los Angeles City College, he moved to New York and studied film at the New School for Social Research in 1948-50. His success as a freelance magazine photographer came in 1953, after military service and employment as a staff photographer for Roy Stryker at the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey. Throughout the 1950s and 60s, Erwitt's documentary photographs appeared in major U.S. magazines. He has also published work through the Magnum agency founded by Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Capa, George Rodger, and Chim (David Seymour). He has been active in the organization as both a photographer and officer, serving as president in 1966. Among Erwitt's most famous photographs are those made during the "kitchen debate" between Richard Nixon and Nikita Khruschev in Moscow in 1959; he is well known for his humorous pictures of people and dogs, which invoke visual puns to ironic effect. His work has been the subject of numerous exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art, ICP, and the Royal Photographic Society in Bath, and elsewhere. Since the early 1970s, Erwitt has produced films, including Dustin Hoffman, Beauty Knows No Pain, and Red, White and Bluegrass, which were all shown at ICP in 2011.
Although frequently noted for offbeat humor, Erwitt's photography is based on a graphic sensibility that instinctively organizes the formal elements of scene to create a personalized comment on the subject. This sensibility pervades all of Erwitt's photographs, whether they are photojournalistic documents, advertising assignments, or personal pictures, and has had a substantial impact on contemporary photography. In addition, through his insistence that the maker, rather than the publisher, of an image hold the copyright, he has affected the entire magazine photography industry.
Lisa HostetlerHandy et al. Reflections in a Glass Eye: Works from the International Center of Photography Collection, New York: Bulfinch Press in association with the International Center of Photography, 1999, pp. 214-15.