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Elliott Erwitt (1028-2023) by Arnaud Adida


His French gallery owner, Arnaud Adida, sent us these little-known color images of Elliott and his text recounting their first encounter.



Last March, my friend Bruno told me: “next week I’m going to NY”. Having spent the 5 best years of my life in this powerful city, I asked him straight away: “Where are you going to sleep?” “. His response was nonchalant: “At Elliott Erwitt’s!” “. I open a wide mouth and let my prey fall…

The following month, thanks to Bruno, I was in contact with Elliott and the exhibition at A.galerie* was in the pipeline. The biggest difficulty of this project remained the selection of images because with more than 60 years of career, Elliott’s work is at least more than a 1000 photos ready to be exhibited  and my gallery can only show around fifty.

For eight months, communication between AA and EE was done only by email. Not a meeting, not a phone call….welcome to the email empire! I might as well tell you that, on my way to the airport, I was very excited about this imminent meeting but I had many questions! How is he ? Is he nice? Will he be as generous as the other photographers of his generation that I know? In short: maximum excitement, significant apprehension.

Immediately I recognized him and went to meet him. He had arrived from Milan where he had shot yet another campaign for Artemide**. He was an 86-year-old man, who moved slowly, who spoke little but well because his head moves very quickly. Even if his body was tired, his eye had a spark that shone brightly, his gaze sparkled. In the car, I tried to talk about things so that we could get to know each other better. But Elliott was not very talkative. He did not go into detail on the subjects we were discussing. On the contrary, he often responded to me with short, well-intentioned sentences that went straight to the point without requiring further comment. One of my first questions was formulated as follows: “Do you speak several languages?” “. He replied “One at a time!” “. Funny guy. The tone was set. Then I noticed that he had attached a horn to his cane and I asked him: “What’s the horn for?” “. Here again, he answered with as much brevity as humor: “Crowd control! “. His answers were always short and funny. The next morning, when I went to pick him up from the hotel I asked him: “Did you have a good sleep?” » and he replied “I don’t know I was asleep!” “. Clearly, I thought this week I’m going to have a good laugh.

It must be said that they were plentiful that week. The opening at A.galerie on Monday, interview with France Culture, the Belgian Morgen and Point de Vue on Tuesday, Paris Photo on Wednesday, interview with TF1 then signing of his new book** at the Grand Palais & at Artcurial on Thursday, business meeting that were kept confidential on Friday and re-Paris Photo on Saturday… Elliott had a great week! When the journalist from Point de Vue asked him if  had he been married 4 times?, he stared into her eyes and said, smiling: “Am an optimist!” » Once again, our lips relaxed, everything was said in a few words. And when I introduced him to Laurence Mouillefarine, journalist from Madame Figaro, I asked him: “Do you know Madame Figaro? », and he whispered in my ear: “Not personally! “. Aaaah good fun. He was 86 years old, moved like a turtle but remained sharp as a tack. I felt I was spending my week with Woody!

On Saturday, he came back to greet me at the gallery. He spent his afternoon in the huge crowd at the Grand Palais, he was exhausted. To relax him, I suggested we go out for a good meal together so that this last Parisian night would be pleasant and of great quality. I then took him to American’s favorite restaurant – La Fontaine de Mars – a place chosen by President Obama during his last visit and which has been full of Yankees ever since. Elliott was delighted and after a few bites and a few drinks, he found both a smile and some color. He had not stopped all week and even though his work was quite nice (signing books, meeting people, seeing exhibitions), it was still exhausting.

On Sunday morning, I was  sad that it was over. It went so quickly. A week with a living legend of photography, we would have liked it to last two weeks! On the way back to the airport, I was a little more talkative. Maybe he got to know me. Or was he shy the first day? That would not surprise me. In any case, his plane was waiting for him for a new trip, this time to Rome, where a museum had the good idea to show his work. I said goodbye to him and above all see you soon. Because it’s such a pleasure for a gallery owner to work with a man so talented, so lively, so generous, so mischievous… See ya’ Elliott.

Arnaud Adida

PS: Another question for Erwitt
AA: So Elliott, what did you buy at “Paris Photo”?
EE: A sandwich…


*Exhibition “More Than Women” until December 20.

**Lighting designer in Italy

*** Regarding Women – Te Neues

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