Erwitt The Great
The man who took to calling himself ASS (André S. Solidor) whilst photographing cigar smoking fish for a time sits down with Beauty Papers to talk about his career, the chance nature of humour, and – obviously – dogs. Long live Elliot Erwitt.
Interview MAXINE LEONARD
Maxine Leonard: You are renowned for your humanistic sensibility and benevolent irony. Is this what drew you to taking pictures?
Elliott Erwitt: No.
You have been quoted as saying ‘you don’t have to give dogs prints.’ Why so many dogs?
Dogs are sympathetic. They are universally adored…now that Chinese people are not eating them. But really, they’re generally seen as good natured in all parts of the world. And yes, they don’t ask for prints.
How important is humour to you in your day-to-day life?
I don’t get up in the morning and decide to be humorous. Sometimes it just happens.
When you moved to New York City, was this to start your career as a photographer? How did this journey begin?
I moved to New York City for two reasons. One, to get away from Los Angeles. And the other was to move to where the action was.
How did you begin with Magnum?
I was invited to join Magnum by Robert Capa.
Your career spans six decades. In all that time, what would be a highlight for you?
I’m still working on it.
What’s your opinion of the digital world?
It certainly is practical. But it hasn’t penetrated my brain as of yet.
You said yes to Beauty Papers. I was surprised and incredibly honoured. What led to your decision?
It’s good to keep working. It keeps me off the street.
I asked you what you thought of Beauty Papers. Your answer was that it’s ‘pretty weird,’ which made me laugh. What do you think of the magazine now?
I’m all for it.
All the subjects in the shoot for Beauty Papers work in the fashion industry, and one travelled from London to be photographed by you. What do you look for in a subject?
Generally I have no preconception of what I’m after. Hopefully I will have the subject determine what I am looking for.
What’s your favourite image from the Beauty Papers shoot?
The three ladies sitting at the bar counter.
What was it like working for Beauty Papers? Did you survive us?
I survived unscathed. And had a couple of pleasant days working with charming people.
What is beautiful to you?
A nude Modigliani painting.
Do you have an obsession?
I’m working on it.
Beauty Papers believes observation is lacking in the industry, it’s one dimensional in what it represents. We were frustrated and it drove us to publish a magazine. Do you think the industry has a social obligation with the imagery it portrays and publishes?
I agree. And more power to you.
Publishing a magazine is challenging! I’m looking for some advice…what wise words could you offer me on this journey?
Follow your instinct.