What to book: ‘Elliott Erwitt’ at Beetles + Huxley

An exhibition surveying the career of the masterful photographer

Paris, France 1989 (detail) © Elliott Erwitt / Magnum Photos courtesy Beetles + Huxley

When asked about the playful nature of many of his photographs, Elliott Erwitt once answered: “I’m not a serious photographer like many of my contemporaries. That is to say, I am serious about not being serious.” As a Magnum agency veteran with a matchless visual sense of humour, Erwitt took a deceptively understated approach to capturing life on camera.

To mark Erwitt’s 90th birthday, Beetles + Huxley in London is staging a retrospective exhibition that includes more than 50 photographs spanning his career. Ranging from shots of New York in the late 1940s to portraits of well-known figures – as well as his infamous depictions of dogs – Erwitt’s body of work is as diverse as it is expansive.

New York City, USA, 1974 © Elliott Erwitt / Magnum Photos courtesy Beetles + Huxley

Perhaps Erwitt’s best-loved photographs are those featuring canines, and a selection of these, taken in London, Paris and New York, will be on display. One notoriously minimalist example simply shows the legs of a large dog beside those of a human and a very small dog beside them, nattily dressed in a knitted jumper and matching hat. 

California 1955 © Elliott Erwitt / Magnum Photos courtesy Beetles + Huxley

Two early photographs taken during Erwitt’s formative time in New York are included in the exhibition, where his early eye for composition is already evident. An ability to be in the right place at the right time is apparent not just in his street photography but also in his brilliant full-length street portrait of a young and angular Arthur Miller. A master of portraiture as well as observation, he also took intimate shots of Marilyn Monroe, Che Guevara, Grace Kelly and Salvador Dalí, among others.

Marilyn Monroe, New York 1956 © Elliott Erwitt / Magnum Photos courtesy Beetles + Huxley

Erwitt’s portraits disprove his suggestion that he is not as serious a photographer as his contemporaries, striking a seamless balance between witty and weighty.

‘Elliott Erwitt’ runs from 24 January to 17 February 2018 at Beetles + Huxley, 3–5 Swallow Street, London W1.

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