Elliott Erwitt



The Celebrated photographer’s eclectic New York home and studio showcases his surreal eye for detail. Interview by Lucie Young

Magnum photographer Elliott Erwitt, 80, lives and works in one of Manhattan’s grand apartment buildings on Central Park West. His extensive studio and dark room is ‘a short commute’ downstairs to a former dentist’s office on the ground floor. Inside, the walls are covered with his iconic photographs from the Fifties and Sixties. ‘I love kitsch,’ Elliott says on a tour of his studio, pointing out a pair of plastic mannequin’s legs on the couch (‘to keep the dog off ’) and a cushion that reads ‘What part of woof don’t you understand?’ In life, just as in his photography, he is a champion of the ironic and the absurd.

Have you always had your own studio?

My studio has been here for 25 years. Sometimes I do sittings in the studio, when it is not being used as a dumping ground.

What is the difference between you and the other Magnum photographers?

Most of my colleagues are quite serious. I am not serious. I think being serious is a problem.

Some of your best-loved pictures are of dogs. Why do you like them so much?

They are sympathetic animals and they don’t ask for prints. Do you have a dog? I have Sammy a 14 year-old Cairn terrier.

What camera do you use?

Everything from small to very large. No one camera does everything. But my general walking around camera is a small, small Leica.

What inspires you photographically?

These days I need to get out of town or I’m seduced by email and end up administering rather than taking pictures. It’s good to have fresh meat, so I’m going to Rome for my next book.

Who are your icons?

Henri Cartier-Bresson, Doisneau, the usual.

Do you prefer working in order or chaos?

Of course order, but I don’t know if I am capable of it.

What is your favorite thing in the studio?

The Lavazza coffee machine. It makes very good espresso.

Are you a workaholic?

My wife would say yes. I work until six, watch the news and if I have things to do I return again.

How do you relax?

I’ve got a little boat in Easthampton. I just got it. I go fishing, which I am not good at.

How would you describe your decorating style?

There are lots of jokes around here. Upstairs though, my wife has very good taste and is able to prevail.

Do you collect anything?

I used to collect a lot, then I had a house that burnt down, so I stopped collecting so much.

What’s next?

I have two books for teNeues coming out this autumn. One on New York and one on Dogs. They include pictures taken over the last 50 years.

What keeps you working?

I’ve got a lot of bills to pay. When I decide to go out to pasture I will stop working.

© 2008