Legendary black-and-white photographer Elliott Erwitt passed away in his Manhattan home on November 29 at the age of 95. Fondly celebrated for his dry visual humor and ability to find a compelling image in almost any scenario, Erwitt amassed over 70 years of experience in documentary photography through a career that led him across North America and Europe. With an eye for the ironic and candid, the photographer was known for softening celebrities, capturing canine excellence, and extracting absurdity from everyday places and experiences.

Born in Paris to Jewish-Russian parents, Erwitt was raised in Milan, Italy, until the age of 10 before emigrating to the United States in 1939, escaping the elevating fascist regime before the onset of World War II. He moved to Los Angeles with his father during the early 1940s and began developing shots of movie stars in commercial darkrooms and taking commissioned photos of locals as a teenager before making his way to New York before the end of the decade. On the east coast, Erwitt connected with Robert Capa, Edward Steichen, and Roy Stryker — the latter of whom hired him as a photographer for a project with the Standard Oil Company that helped launch his freelance career.

Photograph by Elliott Erwitt taken in San Bernardino, California, in 1983 (© Elliott Erwitt/Magnum Photos)

Erwitt was drafted to the United States Army in 1951, taking his trusty camera to Germany and France until he was decommissioned in 1953. He was invited to join Magnum Photos by Capa, the collective’s co-founder, and his freelance documentary photography began appearing in Life, Look, and Collier’s among other publications between the ’50s and ’60s before he served as Magnum’s president for three years.

Erwitt captured pivotal moments and figures in international history, politics, and entertainment throughout his career, including snapshots of Che Guevara, Fidel Castro, Marilyn Monroe, Arnold Schwarzenegger, John F. Kennedy and Jackie Kennedy, Jack Kerouac, Nam Jun Paik, and an iconic photo of then-Vice President Richard Nixon jabbing Nikola Krushchev in the chest during the 1959 “Kitchen Debate.”

Video artist Nam June Paik photographed by Elliott Erwitt in 1982 (© Elliott Erwitt/Magnum Photos)

Alongside his documentation of historical moments, Erwitt was very fond of capturing dogs — especially in a humorous light. In fact, he published four separate books consisting of dog photos throughout his career simply because he liked them and “because they don’t object to being photographed and they also don’t ask for prints.” From pedigree pooches and fashionable city pups to jumping terriers and dogs with jobs, the photographer captured their effervescent personalities as well as the mind-boggling lengths their owners went to exhibit their love.

A photograph by Elliott Erwitt taken in Paris, France in 1989 (© Elliott Erwitt/Magnum Photos)

In a happy medium between the famous and the furry, Erwitt also had a knack for perfectly timed shots that immortalized moments of coincidental and contrived irony, absurdity, and whimsy found in day-to-day life. Some iconic photos of this variation include someone with an umbrella leaping over a puddle in front of the Eiffel Tower, and a candid snap of a canoodling couple seen through a car’s sideview mirror, among dozens of others.

“Photography is an art of observation,” the artist said best. “It has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.”

Rhea Nayyar (she/her) is a New York-based teaching artist who is passionate about elevating minority perspectives within the academic and editorial spheres of the art world. Rhea received her BFA in Visual...

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