As a teenager living in 1940s Hollywood, Elliott Erwitt discovered that he could earn an easy buck by hiring himself out as a wedding photographer. By the time he was in his 20s, he was honing his craft photographing barracks life in post-second-world-war France, before returning to the US to work as a freelance photographer for illustrated magazines including Collier’s, Look, Life and Holiday. Later, he went on to serve as president of Magnum, the renowned photographic co-operative. He became best known for his “visual one-liners”: images that often captured quiet absurdities and ironies. One typically witty photograph shows a crop of a woman in knee-high boots. Beside her stands a long-legged dog, but its hind legs are out of frame – so it seems almost human.
In 2018, at the age of 90, Erwitt decided to revisit his archive. He has spent the past two years sifting through more than 600,000 of his photographs, some of them developed in a laundry room aged 17. The result is a new book, Found, Not Lost, which gathers together 170 previously unseen photographs, some of which he had initially disregarded with notes such as “Pix Useless”. The book reveals a quieter, more gentle side to Erwitt’s style, through pictures often taken between assignments. One such photograph, taken in 1947 when Erwitt was a teenager, shows two girls in New Orleans, smiling naturally at the camera, while another is of his first wife, Lucienne, holding their daughter in a moment of tender intimacy.
“In my 90s, my work looks different than I’ve ever seen it before,” says Erwitt. “There’s a time for photographs that say ‘hello’ and there’s a time to listen.”
Found, Not Lost, by Elliott Erwitt, with a foreword by Vaughn Wallace, is published by Gost Books at £60