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Legendary French-American photographer Elliott Erwitt dies aged 95

Marilyn Monroe, New York City, USA 1956
Marilyn Monroe, New York City, USA 1956 Copyright © Elliott Erwitt/MAGNUM PHOTOS/ Elliott Erwitt/MAGNUM PHOTOS
Copyright © Elliott Erwitt/MAGNUM PHOTOS/ Elliott Erwitt/MAGNUM PHOTOS
By David Mouriquand
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The world of photography mourns a singular talent, whose images "have helped build our general understanding of who we are as a society and as humans."

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Celebrated French-American photographer Elliott Erwitt, known for his black and white images depicting both the mundanity and absurdity of life, has died at 95.

He died "peacefully at home surrounded by family," Magnum, the collective of photographers that he had been part of since 1953, said in a statement.

Born Elio Romano Ervitz to Russian-Jewish parents in Paris in 1928, Erwitt spent his childhood in Milan, and emigrated to the US in 1939 when fascism drove his family out of Italy.

He joined Magnum Photos in 1953 and worked as a freelance photographer for several outlets, including Collier’s, Look, LIFE, Holiday.

New York City, USA 1999
New York City, USA 1999© Elliott Erwitt/MAGNUM PHOTOS/ Elliott Erwitt/MAGNUM PHOTOS

Erwitt was known for freezing significant cultural and political moments (the 1959 moment of tension between Nikita Khrushchev and Richard Nixon during the diplomatic visit that went on to be known as the Kitchen Debate), as well as some iconic shots of celebrities (Marilyn Monroe, Grace Kelly and Jacqueline Kennedy) and animals. Especially dogs.

Felix, Gladys, Rover, New York City, USA 1974
Felix, Gladys, Rover, New York City, USA 1974© Elliott Erwitt/MAGNUM PHOTOS/ Elliott Erwitt/MAGNUM PHOTOS
New York City, USA 2000
New York City, USA 2000© Elliott Erwitt/MAGNUM PHOTOS/ Elliott Erwitt/MAGNUM PHOTOS

He did nothing short of capture the silent surrealism and humour of humanity throughout the latter half of the 20th century.

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvanie, USA, 1950
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvanie, USA, 1950© Elliott Erwitt/MAGNUM PHOTOS
Eiffel Tower 100th anniversary, Paris, France 1989
Eiffel Tower 100th anniversary, Paris, France 1989© Elliott Erwitt/MAGNUM PHOTOS/ Elliott Erwitt/MAGNUM PHOTOS
Marilyn Monroe, New York City, USA 1956
Marilyn Monroe, New York City, USA 1956© Elliott Erwitt/MAGNUM PHOTOS/ Elliott Erwitt/MAGNUM PHOTOS

In an extended remembrance of his life, Magnum said Erwitt would be remembered for "seeking out the most absurd and charming moments of life".

"It was Erwitt's firm belief that photography should speak to the senses and emotions rather than intellect," the statement read.

“His images have helped build our general understanding of who we are as a society and as humans, and have inspired generations of photographers despite the changes in the industry and trends,” wrote Magnum president Cristina de Middel.

“He was a tireless generator of icons. The combination of his casual and humoristic approach to the act of photographing, and his obsessive dedication, made him a unique artist that we have lost today with great sadness.”

California, USA 1955
California, USA 1955© Elliott Erwitt/MAGNUM PHOTOS/ Elliott Erwitt/MAGNUM PHOTOS

Magnum added that it would "proudly protect the inspiring legacy that his image-making will keep on playing in the history of art and photography".

A major restrospective of Erwitt's work is currently on show at La Sucrière in Lyon, France, until 17 March 2024.

Additional sources • Magnum

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