Elliott Erwitt in Steichen’s ‘Family of Man’

Preferring irreverently to call his photographs ‘snaps’, Elliott Erwitt’s flippancy does not hide the depth of talent and skill through which he has become one of the most respected photographers working today. Unlike his contemporaries of comparable renown and success – Henri Cartier Bresson, Robert Doisneau and Willy Ronis – whose work is often defined by the distanced gaze of the street photographer, Erwitt can achieve a rare intimacy with his subject. He documents the wonderful interactions of humans, animals and their surroundings without malice or sarcasm.

An intimate photograph of Erwitt’s first wife, Lucienne Matthews, with their six-day-old daughter, Ellen, and cat, Brutus, was featured in Edward Steichen’s ground-breaking Family of Man (1955) exhibition. It was taken when Erwitt was just 24 years old, shows the small family in their modest Manhattan apartment. The image has become one of the most widely published photographs of all time although Erwitt still considers it a ‘snapshot’ that just “happens to be a pretty good one.”

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