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Matinee: 'Elliott Erwitt, Photographer' Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

26 July 2014

Saturday matinees long ago let us escape from the ordinary world to the island of the Swiss Family Robinson or the mutinous decks of the Bounty. Why not, we thought, escape the usual fare here with Saturday matinees of our favorite photography films?

So we're pleased to present the forty-third in our series of Saturday matinees today: Elliott Erwitt, Photographer.

A mere 22 minutes with hilarious Magnum photographer Elliott Erwitt will leave you begging for more. Especially if you like dogs.

Erwitt likes dogs. They don't object to being photographed and they don't ask for prints, he explains.

And his dog photos are funny. Especially considering the human company they keep. Which is apparently appreciated by other members of the species. Erwitt's Dog Dogs has sold over 300,000 copies.

He moves quickly in this short film. Next up are the beach pictures, a tough subject he solves with marvelous compositions, before moving on to his more general pictures. He calls them pictures, not photographs.

We called him hilarious but he's not outrageous. He's deadpan. The straight man to his photographs. The pictures are hilarious. He's just funny.

A particularly unattractive image of a room comes up. "Some years ago," he explains, "I did a story on bad taste. [laughter] This is a room in Miami Beach." More laughter.

OK, he's hilarious.

Then on to the architecture shots with a baddabing. They too have their humor, of course. The shutters, for example, papered with brick wallpaper to match the outside of the building. Why was that a good idea?

And the portraits of celebrities going back to Harry Truman will have you hitting the Pause button. Among them is Nikon pointing his finger into Krushchev's chest, an image Nixon used without authorization, Erwitt adds without joking. Why does that not surprise us?

His portrait of Andy Warhol includes Erwitt's daughter. "Grace Jones was supposed to be sitting next to him but she was late. So I just used my daughter instead." Warhol doesn't seem to mind at all.

His portraits of Marilyn Monroe and Jack Kerouac are particular affecting. Monroe seems to be in the audience, not on the screen. Kerouac is shot from below sitting in a chair, a monumental pose in the dark.

His images of people looking at art in museums will have you rolling on the floor.

Then he movies into his sets of images, what he calls sequences. These sets of three or four pictures quickly tell a story, the last image often a punch line.

But just a single image can carry a punch line with Erwitt. A bride in her veil stands next to a covered car, for example. His nudes (he recommends shooting at nudist camps) are pretty funny, too.

"Oh my goodness, I didn't know I had so many," he laments as the audience interrupts one laugh with another as he flashes more quickly through his slide show.

You'll be begging, as we said, for more. When you catch your breath. So we dug up a little question-and-answer session with Erwitt to close this matinee. It has the advantage of displaying printed questions (which had been emailed) rather than passing a microphone around.

You won't be surprised that he thinks the digital age makes it all too easy. But he's no curmudgeon. By the time he finishes reflecting on the digital age, you'll be laughing.

He's not done yet. His best picture, he says several times, is the one he hasn't taken yet. We're looking forward to it.

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