Elliott Erwitt's Kolor at Red October
03.10.2015 – 29.11. 2015
Although Kodak introduced its first color films in the 1930s, it took a long time to find a technically satisfactory method of printing – color prints were unstable and failed to correspond to intensity and saturation of the original positive film. Thus, collectors and museums neglected color photography for several decades. In addition, despite the fact that John Szarkowski curated a solo show of William Eggleston, who is regarded as a pioneer of color photography, at MoMA in 1976, most photographers still didn't consider color photography to be a suitable medium for artistic expression. Back then, color photography was mostly employed for editorials and advertising and was shelved in the archives eventually. Elliott Erwitt's color photographs met the same fate.
Bretagne, France, 1960
Erwitt first emerged in the early 1950s with a series on daily life in the army he shot during his military service in France. The photographs caught the attention of the jury of a competition for young photographers run by Life magazine with its unconventional approach to war photography. From there his career began to take off – Erwitt was invited to join a cooperative agency Magnum Photos by Robert Capa himself and was presented to Edward Steichen, then the head of photography department at MoMA, and his successor John Szarkowski, who became an admirer of Erwitt's work. In 1965, the museum opened his first solo exhibition.
However, early recognition of Erwitt's witty and ironical monochrome photographs, which eventually have became his hallmark, have obscured a large body of work – his color photographs. Taken chiefly using no longer existing Kodachrome and Ektachrome films, these works have, remained undiscovered, until now. Forty-five color photographs featured in the exhibition remained in Elliott's archive and have never been exhibited in museums.
Erwitt usually used color photography for professional assignments that provided a living for his family and allowed him to travel the world, shooting portraits of politicians and celebrities from Che Gevara and John F. Kennedy to Marilyn Monroe and Andy Warhol commissioned by Life and Holiday magazines. His photographs appeared on the covers of leading magazines and embodied images of world's top brands. However, Erwitt has always considered himself an amateur since his most famous photographs were taken in passing, during his trips on editorial and advertising assignments.
The great Henri Cartier-Bresson was impressed how Erwitt managed to balance commercial work with his "amateur" personal photography. The exhibition encompasses both his commercial assignments and color documentary photography that reveals distinguished craft, intelligence, and insight of one of the greatest photographers of the 20th century. Erwitt's color body of work is certainly different from his black-and-white photographs that typically have plot and tend to tell a story. His color photographs are not necessarily comic or even narrative. In many cases, the color itself is the sole subject matter of a photograph. It becomes evident how Erwitt's interest is shifting from his favorite theme of human comedy to the exploration of expressive possibilities of color. In this regard, for many artists color has become a new dimension in photography.