Remembering Elliott Erwitt (1928–2023)

Elliott Erwitt in the living room of his New York apartment in front of one of his photographs
Elliott Erwitt in the living room of his Central Park apartment in front of a photo from fine art photographer Andre S. Solidor (a.k.a. Elliott Erwitt)

Elliott-Erwitt-The-Personal-ExperienceAs a high school photographer thirsting for knowledge, I came across a wonderful series of books from the Masters of Contemporary Photography. I started with ‘The Private Experience by Elliott Erwitt’, reading it cover-to-cover, carefully studying the images. It showed me that photography can make the viewer feel a connection with the person in front of the lens. Elliott’s dry wit carried through to his photographs uncanny ability to share a laugh with his subjects helped shape the way I saw the world through a camera.

Little did I know at the time that years later, Elliott would become my friend.

I met Elliott thanks to an introduction by our mutual friend Kayla Lindquist. The Creative Coalition was setting up shoots of Harry Belafonte and Matthew Modine for ‘Art & Soul: Stars Unite to Celebrate and Support the Arts’ shot in partnership with The Creative Coalition and Sony. Kayla asked if I’d like to photograph Elliott for the book. My answer was a resounding Y-E-S! How often do you get a chance to meet your idol?

The book featured portraits of Oscar and Emmy-winning actors and Grammy-winning musicians. Elliott was one of the few photographers who could hold his own among them.

Photographer Elliott Erwitt photographed for the book "Art and Soul"
From my first shoot of Elliott Erwitt for the book ‘Art and Soul’ at Milk Studios New York

While the images captured his quirky personality, I didn’t feel they properly reflected his legendary stature. I asked if we could give it another try and he said yes. On our appointed day, my wife and I packed up our gear and backdrop and headed to Erwitt’s studio on Central Park West.

Elliott Erwitt at his New York studio
Elliott Erwitt at the entrance of his New York studio & office
Photographer Elliott Erwitt photographed for the book "Art and Soul"
Elliott Erwitt holds the 4×5 Graflex Super D he used to shoot his iconic image of the cast of ‘The Misfits’ along with his well-worn Leica.

Photographer Elliott Erwitt photographed for Art & Soul in his New York Studio

Brian Smith photographs Elliott Erwitt in his New York studio
It’s always a good day when you can sit at the feet of a Master!
Kayla Lindquist and Elliott Erwitt
Kayla Lindquist and Elliott Erwitt

We had a wonderful time at our second shoot. Hopefully that shows in the photos. From that point on, Elliott welcomed me as friend – possibly because we shared the same dry sense of humor but more likely, he appreciated my humility to admit I could do better than our first shoot. I never quizzed him about his famous photos, we just liked making each other laugh.

Art and Soul book edit
Elliott joined my publisher Dorothee Walliser in my Miami Beach studio for the first edit of ‘Art & Soul: Stars Unite to Celebrate and Support the Arts’
Elliott Erwitt chews his photo for Art & Soul
While he was at our book edit, I let Elliott chews his photo for ‘Art & Soul: Stars Unite to Celebrate and Support the Arts’
Photographer Elliott Erwitt in Art & Soul
Elliott Erwitt in ‘Art & Soul: Stars Unite to Celebrate and Support the Arts’
Elliott Erwitt in Miami Beach
For the duration of Elliott’s visit, we had TWO original Elliott Erwitt’s in our Miami Beach home.

Over the ensuing years, I’d stop by to see Elliott in his studio or home. My wife Fazia and I would join him for dinner or as his guest at his museum exhibit openings. He’d come to parties at our Tribeca apartment even though he considered it to be located in New Jersey based on the travel time from the Upper West side.

Happy Birtday Elliott Erwitt
In 2015, Elliott returned from shooting in Havana, Cuba where they honor his birthday with a huge celebration every year…
Brian Smith photographs Elliott Erwitt in 2019
I stopped by to visit Elliott at his office in 2019 when he sported a very distinguished beard

Photographers Elliott Erwitt and Brian Smith 2019

Elliott was a rarity among photographers: one who didn’t like to talk about himself. Writers who profiled him will tell you that Elliott wasn’t an easy interview. He preferred his images speak for themself. Anyone seeking insight into his life should check out Elliott Erwitt: Home Around the World. Focusing on his life and career, the writers and editor of the book managed to pry many never-before-told stories out of Elliott.

Check out the Elliott Erwitt Bookstore on Amazon:
Elliott-Erwitt-Bookstore

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