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Saturday, 21 November 2009


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Regarding digital manipulation, Erwitt admits that he's not an artist. Photography has never raised the interest of too many true artists, and it seems that Erwitt wants to keep it that way.

If digital photography could manage to attract more real artists into the field of photography, then pure photography would be practised as well by photographers who are more than craftspersons.

I hope you're joking....

I really, really hope you're joking....


I was fortunate enough to spend an afternoon here in Austin with Elliott Erwitt back in Sept of this year. We had lunch at my favorite Mexican food dive and machiattos at Progress Coffee. He was funny, engaging and very calm.

He is the ultimate Photographer's Photographer in nearly every way.

A role model for people who've been in the business for a long time.

My favorite part of the day was when he whipped out a Leica MP (engraved on the top plate with his signature) with a 50mm Summilux on the front to take a photo of an animatronic Lyndon Baines Johnson figure at the LBJ library. He thought the whole scene was hilarious.


I knew you'd be hoping that Mike ;).

Financial Times says E.E. is
"Gentler than Arbus, more light-hearted than Frank, less detached than Friedlander"
sounds like
"able to walk around tall buildings in a reasonable time, larger than a speeding bullet, more careful than a locomotive"

I mean aren't most photographers?

Maybe F.T just means that when E.E. photographs a kid holding a gun to his head its funnier than Arbus
USA. Pennsylvania. Pittsburgh. 1950. © Elliott Erwitt

I love his answer to the question about what makes a great photographer. Very aspirational.

He is definitely high on my list of favorite photographers.
BUT...but...I wish he would finally make that special ikonic image which would stamp him as one of the Great Masters of All Time. He has no "Moonrise," no "Migrant Mother," no "Pepper #30," no "Children Playing in the Ruins," no "American Gothic," etc, (you get the picture -- pun intended).

"Asked what makes a great photographer, Erwitt pauses, then quotes a friend: “She said it was someone who shows you something you can’t see yourself.”"

I don't know who Erwitt's friend is, but she seems very insightful.


When Erwitt dies, they will find a hidden studio where he photographed cats in multiple exposures, hand etched and bleached the negs, and secretly printed them on aluminum, only after he snapped a self portrait of himself licking the the faux chrome frame they are mounted in.

Bet on it!

Not to be rude, but regarding the comment by the first poster, I am surprised such a view point still exists. To say a photographer cannot be a "true artist" .... (sputter, cough, cough ...... it's enough to make you inhale your morning coffee in surprise).

Hall Gould has an E.E. show going right now at the Camera Obscura Gallery in Denver. It's a great show with some fantastic examples of his work, including the bulldog in the lady's lap. If you're near Denver, do try to check it out.

If you really want to bet on that, I'm in for a thousand. I'll see if I can scrape together a little more, come to that.


Thanks for the heads-up Mike! Will go see the show, pronto!

Alex, I never said a photographer cannot be a true artist: you don't have to look any further than Elliott Erwitt for evidence (I know he was being self-deprecating).

I get riled up when anyone, especially an artist who should know better, is so close-minded about what photography is and can be. I know I popped off :-).

@Alex. Yes, such a point of view still exists. And I'd say that it's prevalent out among the people who don't know anything about the art or even among the people who know something.

As far as I know, not a single gallery here in Zagreb sells photographs. Yes, there have been exhibitions in museums, but no one sells photos as art.

"The world's greatest living photographer". I have a feeling EE may not like that. I mean as soon as you die you lose the title. It just doesn't seem acceptable.

EE regards Ansel Adams prints as 'postcard' quality compared to others who he admires more because whilst their 'photo technique' is not so highly polished their images have an emotion or depth that outshines those of higher technical accomplishment.

He doesn't seem to care to take himself too seriously, Magnum title his images on his website "for life like snaps".

Many of his images are whimsical and funny. They raise a smile, entertain and you move on. Others are great engaging images.

Very few of those chosen of Magnum for his portfolio page are of famous faces mostly they are wry snapshots of life, an encouragement to us all to open our eyes and enjoy what is around us.

Has any of his images stunned or moved me. No. Do any reveal a new truth or aspect of life I was unaware of. No. Have I consciously or subconsciously copied his viewpoint and/or subject matter. Yes.

We give people titles do they want them. Do they serve a purpose? Henri CartierBresson seemed at the end of his career to be unhappy with photography and indeed his own images. He turned to painting and I seem to recollect that he wished he had stuck with movies.

Who better to judge photography than the photographers themselves. They know the circumstances and themselves. They know what was luck and what was 'them'. We so often get these things the wrong way round.

Very Large Smile...

"World's Greatest Living Photographer" ?
Someone needs to get out more!

Not to mention the fact that "the world's greatest" anything is an unlikely occurrence.

Any photographer who can make me smile so often ... and reconsider so often ... is indeed an artist.

Michel, my wife frequently says the same thing, and there's a sense to it - you just have to consider all the ways it can be done.

Re: digital manipulation - did darkroom manipulation kill photography back then (see Scott Mutter, for instance)? I say manipulate away if that's your thing, just don't lie about or misrepresent what you do.

Do you think that a title like "World's Greatest Living Photographer"--especially with caps--would be meant entirely solemnly?

And as to who better to judge photography than the photographers themselves, no sale here. Photographers are wretched judges of their own work. If you believed otherwise, then you'd have to accept as "extremely accomplished" an endless parades of hacks, no-talents and amateurs just because they happen to have a high opinion of themselves. I'm the one experiencing the photographers' work; therefore I'll be the one to judge--for me.


The title is yours and is not a claim made by the FT. If you were being (mildly) sarcastic I didn't get any clue of that from your post. I need more clues, sorry.

I'm now just confused what made you give that title to him and whether you think it is nearly 100% true or maybe closer to 75% true etc etc. Please do say, percentage not required. Honest.

We can all of course have preferences which are at total variance with the photographer (you can decide to judge for yourself what you like as you say).However we maybe judging on different criteria to those of the photographer. He may have been aiming for an image to capture a specific mood or concept. He may or may not feel he was successful. We look at it with different eyes.

EE said about those who comment (judge) on his images "I certainly don't use those funny words museum people and art critics like."

I wasn't suggesting all photographers could judge their worth. I meant that those who we judge as leaders can make a judgement on their photos which we cannot. Specifically they know whether an image was a chance lucky shot or one which they 'worked' to get.

For example if we never knew that the Capa 'dying soldier' image was staged we would give it great value. If we were Capa and knew it was staged we would judge its value considerably less. I only give this as an example, I have no idea whether the image was staged or not.

To deny a photographers judgement is a bit too much after all our most celebrated photographers are feted for their 'eye for an image' who are we lesser mortals who do not have that 'eye for an image' to try and judge our betters. If we had it then surely we could take quality images as well?

I recollect that one of the criteria Magnum use to decide on a candidates suitability is the candidates ability to select their best images (to judge themselves).

Surely it's obvious that, when Mike says "World's greatest living photographer" he is speaking, as this is his blog, of his own opinion. It's a subjective call; you can agree or disagree. It's not as if he is making any kind of decisive final classification.

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