A retrospective exhibition at Lu.C.C.A. tells about the great photographer’s 60-years career

W hat is the meaning of telling the story of a great photographer through 136 pictures chosen among those in 60 years of career? The sense is: running through his life, intercepting his passions, perceiving his existential philosophy and comprehending his grandeur through his professional skill and the originality of his pictures. Despite having had Robert Capa, Edward Steichen and Roy Stryker as mentors, Erwitt achieved his own style, at the same time intimist, ironic, surprising, sometimes impertinent and gently irreverent, but always technically faultless. Even the most evocative shots, however, are connected to an occasional moment, to the here and now of a place and of a time, to the spontaneous smile in front of an unconventional scene or of a visual oxymoron. All his works have been filtered by the right hemisphere of his brain, all his images are the result of an instantaneous cerebral elaboration, that thanks to a generous use of several shots, blocks a moment that attracts his creativity. Among all negatives there is always one that represents a perfect balance between compositional structure and vision. “All pictures should be, if not perfect, then at least well balanced, graphically and geographically correct”, Erwitt says replying to a question Angela Madesani once asked him. “Composition is absolutely crucial and essential for any photograph”. His familiarity with the world of movies must not surprise: in New York he attends lessons on cinematography at the New School for Social Research and later on he moves to Hollywood where he will be on the set of many films. Erwitt often declares he loves Italian Neorealism that he still today considers the best. He says he learned a lot from Rossellini and Visconti or at least he tried to be inspired by black and white and by the “realism with no artificiality”.

“A professional at his job and an amateur by vocation”, he loves subtle irony. Humor is something innate in a photographer. It is possible to refine the technique, to educate aesthetics and composition, but certainly it is difficult to improve the sharpness of perception, the sagacity of spirit, imagination and the intellectual inspiration that creates unique shots. Apart from having a vivid imagination, Erwitt is gifted with a great ability for studying people, animals, objects and life with irony and disenchantment, sagacity and intelligence, with a playful spirit and mental refinement. We could talk about existential irony that corresponds to the desire for taking a distance from what is usual and conventional in order to establish a borderline between himself and the things that surround him. Odd and funny, unconventional and atypical shots originate, and also strange and extraordinary compositions, without forcing: “I would photograph what I saw; I might say it’s a kind of memoir of my past sixty years. Some pictures are part of works I’d been commissioned to do, while others are not and were simply taken because I like taking photographs”. In his life, Erwitt travels and photographs a great deal, giving priority to the stolen moment. Situations seen through an unforeseeable lens: “Ideas come after you have shot your picture. I think this is how things went in most cases: I took some photographs following my instinct and then later, made some considerations”.

Maurizio Vanni

Login or Register to publish a comment