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Magnum Gallery : Elliott Erwitt : But Seriously


Magnum Gallery presents a selection of more than 30 lifetime works celebrating the life, work, and legacy of legendary photographer Elliott Erwitt. The exhibition features images from an illustrious career that spanned more than 70 years and that influenced photographers across generations all around the world. On November 29, 2023, Erwitt passed away at the age of 95 surrounded by family in his Manhattan home.

Over several decades, Erwitt captured everything from the mundane to the monumental with incredible care, humor, and dedication — piquing the fascination of millions. From the start, he succeeded in both his commercial and personal projects, garnering praise and admiration from his peers who found striking the same balance far more difficult.

Adamantly against pretension both in his work and toward his subjects, he said, “For me, photography is about finding something interesting in an ordinary place. I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.”

How Erwitt saw cities like Paris, Pittsburgh, and New York transformed the ways people connected to those places and the stories they’ve told about them. His portraits of iconic figures like Marilyn Monroe, Che Guevara, and Richard Nixon became imprinted on the public imagination and helped shape their legacies.

Dogs were one subject he always liked, and he wasn’t shy about his fondness either, pu- blishing four books dedicated to them during his lifetime. The endearing images provide a heartwarming and insightful look into humanity and its bond with canines, making that work some of the most adored in his remarkable oeuvre. The photographs he made of romantic partnerships show a sense of intimacy that seems both rare and ubiquitous, with a charm that’s difficult to explain. He’d caution against reading too much into any image though, saying at one time, “When the photograph happens, it comes easily, as a gift that should not be questioned or analyzed.”

Elliott Erwitt: But Seriously brings together black-and-white photographs that exemplify the combination of wit, absurdity, and elegance wholly characteristic of his work and perspec- tive. There are perfect pairs and unlikely ones, dogs of all sorts and people much the same, observers and unsuspecting subjects abound — all perfectly framed with unmatched playful- ness and simplicity that embrace and champion what it is to be human.

Samantha McCoy, Gallery Director states: “The impact Elliott’s work had on the canon of 20th century photography, and on his Magnum colleagues, cannot be understated. His work is as meaningful for someone who has never seen photography before to a photography connaisseur. Looking at each of the pieces in this show is life-affirming. His photos continue to bring a smile to my face. This is photography at its best.”


Born in Paris in 1928, to Russian parents, Elliott Erwitt spent his childhood in Milan. He then emigrated to the US, via France, with his family in 1939. As a teenager living in Hollywood, he developed an interest in photography and worked in a commercial darkroom before experimenting with photography at Los Angeles City College. In 1948, he moved to New York and exchanged janitorial work for film classes at the New School for Social Research.

Erwitt traveled in France and Italy in 1949 with his trusty Rolleiflex camera. In 1951, he was drafted for military service and undertook various photographic duties while serving in a unit of the Army Signal Corps in Germany and France.

While in New York, Erwitt met Edward Steichen, Robert Capa, and Roy Stryker, the former head of the Farm Security Administration. Stryker initially hired Erwitt to work for the Standard Oil Company, where he was building up a photographic library for the company, and subsequently commissioned him to undertake a project documenting the city of Pittsburgh.

In 1953, Erwitt joined Magnum Photos and worked as a freelance photographer for Collier’s, Look, Life, Holiday, and other luminaries in that golden period for illustrated magazines.

Throughout his career, which spanned three quarters of a century, he worked for a variety of journalistic and commercial outfits.

In the late 1960s, Erwitt served as Magnum’s president for three years. He then turned to film.

In the 1970s, he produced several noted documentaries and in the 1980s, 18 comedy films for Home Box Office (HBO). Erwitt became known for benevolent irony, and for a humanistic sensibility traditional to the spirit of Magnum.


Elliott Erwitt: But Seriously
From March 8 to May 25.
A public exhibition opening will take place on March 7, 5 p.m.–8 p.m.
Magnum Gallery
68 rue Léon Frot
Paris 75011


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