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Tuesday, 24 May 2011


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Didn't I read here that some of the "right moment in the right place" images were actually setups? Does that ruin them for anyone else? (And if I'm way off base, I apologize...)

"Here is my first and only beef with Erwitt: An artist is not always the best judge of his/her own work."

I suppose it depends on how one defines "best work". I closed a show of some B&W work at a small local gallery yesterday and before taking the photos down asked the gallery director what if any of the 29 photos she wanted to retain for their inventory. She picked six and all but one I thought were predictable. They were clearly stronger images. One however surprised me and it wasn't even the last one she chose. It was the second one she picked.

Different images speak to different people. I expect Erwitt saw something in those "how did this get in here?" images that eluded you. C'est la vie.

Having just been there two days ago I can confirm all the above statements are true. I'd also like to add that if you happen to have a cell phone there is a number that you can dial next to several photos that will allow you to listen to Elliott speak about that photo. What's surprising is there are some photos that are not photojournalism (that I thought were) at all but rather completely set up. In no way does this diminish the show though.

There is also a room devoted to his video work as well (lower level). Particularly interesting if you like bluegrass music, Dustin Hoffman, or the movie Little Big Man.

I decided to leave a few things out because the article was getting a bit too long, so I didn't mention that some of the photos are staged and that there is no explanatory text to that effect accompanying each photo (there is merely a note stating the year and place the photo was taken). I knew the story behind a few of the staged ones and took delight in asking my wife to guess if they were or not. Others I didn't know about had us debating; I wanted to look them up later but rather ironically the ICP doesn't allow photography so now I can only remember one of them.

I was so impatient to see the photos that it wasn't until I was finishing up my visit that I looked at the exhibit pamphlet and saw the phone number one could call for explanations. Anyone with an unlimited calling plan might want to bring some headphones to plug into their phone and listen to Erwitt speak. If I get a chance to visit NYC again before it's over, I'll be doing that for sure.

I should also mention that there are a few photos in colour, hidden away in a corner. One of them is of Mr and Mrs Obama shortly after winning the election walking onto a stage in front of a large crowd, and is framed with Erwitt's usual humour, making you wonder what exactly was he photographing. I won't spoil it for you—just go see it!

Thanks for this. I'll have to make a point of getting down there. (I'll be in NYC with my family in August, visiting the Harry Potter exhibit at the Discovery Museum, but don't think they'll appreciate my disappearance) So after the Sony A77 is announced in July and then available to try at B&H, I'll make a day trip out of it.

thank you for this review, i cannot wait to be in nyc again and go see the exhibit, he is one of my favorite photographers too.
one part of your review however made me wonder:
"I felt some of his images didn't really belong in this exhibit when compared in quality with the majority of the rest; I'd be walking down the wall and all of a sudden I'd come upon a photo that made me think huh? how did this get in here? I'm sure those few photos are favourites for some reason or other, but I suspect it's emotional, not objective appreciation of these photos."


if art does not generate an emotional response, what is it good for? i know it is easy to get caught up in the technical aspect, but whenever i think of the images that really made me stop and think, i do not think ANY of them were 'perfect shots'. the beautiful, polished, super sharp, 'plastic looking' images look wonderful for a minute, and then you just move on. the ones that create and emotional response stay with you.

just my 2 cents! thank you again, great stuff

Thanks. His website is one of the most enjoyable experiences I have had in ages. It goes to prove that humour can be art too.

For some reason I hadn't really looked at his work for ages despite having come across it many years ago. I think I need to do some catching up.

"... and making many horizontal images double-truck, effectively cutting them in half with the spine. I don't understand how publishers are allowed to get away with this semi-criminal activity."

I'm glad it's not just me! I didn't buy 'Personal Best' for that exact reason. I love his pictures but refuse to pay 100 euros for a book full of pictures cut in half. Does anybody have a suggestion for a book with an overview of Erwitts work that doesn't suffer from this problem?

Your link to his "worn to perfection" Leica is telling. I wonder if any modern digital cameras will ever get to see such thorough use.

Incidentally, if you want to listen to the descriptions you can call 646-205-7666 punch in 26# and listen to Erwitt talk about a book he made for friends. Then move on to 27#, 28# and so on. I don't remember when they cut off but I think it somewhere around 40# or so. Plus its great fun to try to match up the descriptions with the images.

Dear Stefano,

I understand what Miserere is getting at. I think it's just slight misunderstanding. He's talking about the artist deciding to put a work in a show for spurious emotional reasons, as opposed to artistic judgement.

When you get to hang an exhibit of whatever you want, it's a temptation to include works that are personally meaningful but may not show off your best art. The first photo you ever made, the photo you worked the hardest to make, the one you think is unutterably cute but none of the people you show it to ever seem to like it, and so on.

Two schools of thought about that-- one says only show your best work and don't dilute the impact of the show by giving in to personal digression. The other says what the hey, it's your show, do what you want and if there are a couple of pieces that don't speak as well to the audience, the rest will still stand up just fine. Both make sense.

pax / Ctein

Hey, I just discovered the iPad version of Erwitt's Personal Best — 343 of his photos, plus video and audio by Erwitt.

For $6, I'm sold. I'll report back once I've spent some time with the app.



Ctein put my few words into more, better words perfectly. That's exactly what I meant, and this is an issue that was discussed here on TOP recently but I don't have the time right now to dig up the link; maybe Mike can find it for us quicker?

Thanks for your eloquence, Ctein!

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