Elliott Erwitt (Paris, 1928) is one of the great photographers belonging to the legendary Magnum agency founded by David Saymour, George Rodger, Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Capa in 1947. His optimistic view on life and sense of humour reflected widely in his numerous productions distance him from the work of other photographers at the agency. His main objective is not to denounce social injustice, but it seems that Erwitt is more interested in revealing a paradoxical human nature through the contrast of situations and sarcasm.
A selection of one hundred and twenty photographs ranging from 1946-2001 up to this exhibition is the first retrospective devoted to the photographer in Madrid. Here some of the issues that have helped popularise his work are exhibited, for example, photographs of dogs, which led the artist to publish several books about them or the visual statements of scepticism about the institution of marriage. Erwitt’s disillusioned diagnosis on couples is contrasted by the romantic load of his other images. Also present in the exhibition are some of his photographs on museums that make up another recurring theme in his career. Erwitt was also White House photographer. He took the tragic picture of Jacqueline Kennedy in Arlington Cemetery after the assassination of JFK, an image whose drama is surpassed by that other of Julia Friedman weeping over the grave of her son Robert Capa who died in Indochina in 1954. Equally recognisable are some of his portraits of public figures such as Marilyn Monroe, Grace Kelly, Jacqueline Kennedy, Ernesto "Che" Guevara or Richard Nixon.
It was his participation at the largest photography event of the Fifties, the Family of Man exhibition organised by Edward Steichen for the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1955, which highlighted the artistic qualities of Erwitt’s work. The photographer exhibited four of his images on another one of his themes: the American way of life, which is depicted in many of his photographs through the car or the TV.
Racial inequality is also captured by Erwitt’s camera, as seen in the image showing the differences between the latest model fountain intended for white people and the antiquated structure for black people to drink from, both separated by a space of little more than half a metre or another snapshot that captures a white girl groomed, dressed and ready to participate in a beauty pageant compared to another black girl who is loaded with bags and dressed humbly. Both are facing the camera but only one of them poses. Along with these are other images on the Ku Klux Klan and its activities which complete the show.
Without any photo manipulation and always in black and white, from 1970 Erwitt's work includes making documentaries and short films and the publication of more than fifteen books thematically collecting some of his best shots.
Fundación Municipal de Cultura. Sala San Benito, Valladolid
Reina Sofia Museum's Publications