LESSON PHOTOGRAPHY FROM ELLIOTTA ERVITT
Even if you are not familiar with the name of Elliott Erwitt, his photos must have met you on the Internet. He is not only a member of the Magnum agency and his former head, but also known for record-breaking photographic experience — more than 50 years.
In addition to the humorous approach to the world, Elliott Erwitt is distinguished by a simple and non-philosophical attitude to photographic art, therefore, in his advice, there is a maximum of practical use.
1. Careful plans interfere with creativity
As a street photographer, I often succumb to the temptation of careful planning. I try to focus my attention on current photographic projects, but in the end it turns out that at times it distracts me from the true photographic experience. I think a certain balance is needed here – on the one hand, it is necessary not to remove the focus from the project, but, on the other hand, not to plan too much.
Erwitt: I have no specific goals, I just react to events. I cannot predict whether I am taking pictures of dogs today or not: I have a lot of photos and people, and even cats. But dogs are prettier.
Erwitt has an amazing way to select photos and create books. He just goes for a walk and removes everything that seems interesting to him, and then, reviewing the archives of his work, he creates books or creates projects based on what he has already shot.
There is another approach that I use – to first define the idea and purpose, and then pursue them, but there is also a sense in the approach of Elliott Erwitt.
I think that the choice of approach depends, first of all, on the personality of the photographer. If you like orderliness, structure, presence of a goal, this means that my method will suit you. But if you love freedom and the absence of tension, then the Erwitt method is more suitable for you.
I recommend trying both approaches (or even combining them) and in practice determine what suits you best.
2. Walk more
The best method of street photography is to become a wanderer, walk without a specific goal or destination.
Here is what Erwitt says about the walk, from which he gets pleasure:
And: Exploring the city, you make some plans or just enjoy a walk and try to see something?
Erwitt: I’m just walking. I grew up in Milan, Italy, and I have particularly warm feelings for this country. I go back there at least two or three times a year. In my photo book about Rome, just random photos of the city. Many books have been published about Rome, but this reflects my personal approach. Of course, there will be monuments and the Colosseum in it, but above all, people and life will be reflected in it.
A street photographer must first of all fear that he will become a tourist. The worst in the lot of the tourist – too predictable route. Of course, you will have the opportunity to see famous monuments and views, but interesting photos are unlikely to be obtained.
Try to follow your curiosity. Walk on unfamiliar streets, and you probably will meet great stories.
3. Photograph not only people
Photographers often forget that there are other interesting topics besides people. The best genre photographs, of course, depict people, but people are not a prerequisite.
Erwitt has several famous photographs depicting not human beings, but “human essence.”
And: People are more important to you?
Erwitt: Human essence, it doesn’t matter what it is, people themselves or what they do.
What does Erwitt mean by “human essence”? Most likely, he is talking about photographs that tell about humanity, be it photographs of people or subjects related to them.
This philosophy is well illustrated by one of the most famous photographs of Erwitt, which shows a crucifix next to a Pepsi advertisement. In my opinion, this is a challenge to modern society, for which the border between consumption and spiritual values has disappeared.
Walking around the city, pay attention not only to people. Focus on the plots that can somehow characterize the society. These can be billboards, items that you find under your feet, cityscapes and other visual messages.
4. Keep it simple
A serious approach to photography is always associated with the Magnum agency. The image of Robert Capa immediately comes to mind in the bog in the swamp, under bullets and grenades, in an attempt to remove the soldiers at the front.
However, Erwitt (although younger than Capa, Cartier-Bresson, and his other contemporaries) works in a completely different style. He did not shoot wars and conflicts, but always tried to notice funny, humorous and cheerful situations.