Elliott Erwitt: My Photographic Home

Elliott Erwitt is one of the most prestigious photographers in the world. His unique collection “Personal Best for Leica by Elliott Erwitt” contains 50 iconic images that have stirred many people. Photographs of Marilyn Monroe or Che Guevara, as well as pictures that show charming humor can be seen in all Leica Galleries worldwide. The exhibition was firstly presented at photokina 2012 and soon after in Frankfurt. In the following two years the exhibition can be visited in the Leica Galleries in Salzburg, Tokyo, New York, Prague, Warsaw, Paris and Solms.

Q: Elliott, what is an iconic image in your opinion?

A: Well, I suppose that it is an image that gets used a lot and is recognized easily. It’s not necessarily a good one but one that is repeated and repeated and repeated.

Q: So you make a difference between good pictures and iconic pictures?

A: Absolutely.

Q: Why?

A: There are some good pictures that people are not recognized as good pictures. And there are a lot of bad pictures that people recognize as good pictures. It is very subjective, really. Certainly, the term iconic is very subjective.

Q: An iconic picture is probably taken in an exact time, in a rare moment.  What is necessary to shoot an iconic picture?

A: I do not think that you get up in the morning with the goal to take an iconic picture. It simply does not work that way. Perhaps you get lucky enough to get a picture that is good and that gets good use and is then seen by many people. I suppose a picture has to be seen by many people before it can be iconic. That is part of the definition.

Q: You are the photographer known for many iconic pictures. How did that happen?

A: I take pictures, some of them get recognized, some of them get used and some of them get used a lot because the picture happens to be of an important subject or an important person. There are many reasons why a picture might become iconic. And not all of them are necessarily good.

Q: Have you had luck with taking many pictures?

A: Well, luck is certainly always been part of my budget. Absolutely, yes.

Q: But you never can rely on it.

A: That is true. You cannot rely on it. But can you rely on a lot in general? No. Some people are just luckier than others.

Q: How much luck does a photographer need?

A: Luck is always important and of course it depends on what it is that you do. If you are a war photographer, luck is really very important because you might get killed. When you are a studio photographer, it is of course a different kind of luck. These questions are quite subjective.

Q: Let’s talk about Magnum. What does Magnum mean for you?

A: Mangum was my agency since I got out of the army in 1953. I would describe Magnum as my “photographic home” for quite a long period of time.

Q: You are, beside all of the founders of Magnum, the Magnum-Photographer par excellence.

A: When I joined in 1953, the company was five or six years old. I guess that I am one of the surviving original members. Most of the elder people, who started the company, are now photographing in heaven, I suppose. Maybe some of them are in hell, I do not know. Probably not.

Q: Did Magnum change a lot in the last decades?

A: Magnum has changed radically since the beginning just as the business of photography has changed radically. The reason why Magnum did survive is the fact that people have adapted themselves to the changing times and through the changing requirements – as in magazines and for still photography. I would say that the accommodation to the business aspects of photography is what changed Magnum deeply.

Q: Do you have a favorite picture?

A: I have many favorite pictures.

Q: Which picture or print would you never give away?

A: I have some pictures that were given to me by Henri Cartier-Bresson that I will not give away because they are significant. But let’s face it: I am not a collector.

Q: How many pictures do you have from other photographers, from your friends?

A: More than two.

Q: Many of your famous pictures are taken with your Leica. What is your relationship to Leica?

A: I don’t always shoot with Leica. It really depends. I shoot my personal pictures with Leica. Because it is a portable camera and I carry it with me when I travel, but professional work requires specific equipment for certain kinds of jobs. With regard to equipment, I could open a store. I have all kinds of equipment. From plate glass, plate cameras to every other kind, even to electronic cameras, which is the newest development in my arsenal, and other very welcome equipment as well. One must do what one is required and now digital photography is of course the dominant way of working.

Q: And are you shooting with digital Leica cameras or do you prefer your M6?

A: I have digital cameras and I use them – but only when required. It is a matter of what you are used to and what you have been doing. I can see the ease and the economy of digital cameras: Especially for commercial photographs, for commercial photography in general. You are more ensured in what you do hence you can check it easily. But I personally prefer the old fashioned method. Perhaps I am just used to it.

Q: How many request do you get each week for photo shootings or jobs for magazines or companies?

A: How many? I don’t get many.

Q: Maybe a dozen?

A: In my old age I mostly work on projects rather than on quick assignments. I still do some fashion jobs for magazines and some specific jobs but normally I work on books and exhibitions and on long range things rather than on quick projects. I do not have a problem getting work anymore.

Q: Do you print in your own studio?

A: Yes. All my photographs, all my prints, come from my studio. Whether I print them or whether my assistant prints them with me does not really matter. The most important thing is just that nothing is given out.

Q: What is your biggest wish for the future of photography?

A: My wish for the future of photography is that it might continue to have some relevance to the human condition and might represent work that evokes knowledge and emotions. That photography has content rather than just form. And I hope that there will be enough produce to balance out the visual garbage that one sees in our current life.

Thank you very much, Elliott!

- Leica Internet Team

To see more of Elliott’s work, visit his website.

Dates of the exhibitions:

Leica Gallery Warsaw: 15th February – 15th March 2013
Gwiazdzista 31/125
Warsaw, Poland

Leica Gallery Tokyo: 11th April – 14th July 2013
6-4-1 Ginza, Chuo-ku
Tokyo, Japan

Leica Gallerie Salzburg: 8th August – 3rd October 2013
Mirabellenplatz 8
Salzburg, Austria

The dates of the other exhibition will be published soon. For more Leica Gallery information, click here.