Arts & Culture

Messages to Erwitt From Magnum Colleagues and Friends

Magnum friends and colleagues look back at the legendary photographer’s time and career at Magnum.

Elliott Erwitt and Henri Cartier-Bresson. New York, USA, 1959. © Marc Riboud / Magnum Photos

“It is hard to measure the impact that Elliott Erwitt has had on Magnum and the world of photography,” writes Cristina de Middel, president of Magnum Photos. “His images have helped build our general understanding of who we are as a society and as humans, and have inspired generations of photographers despite the changes in the industry and trends.”

“Elliott was part of Magnum for 70 of the 76 years of our existence as a cooperative and agency,” she continues. “His work and archive are a fundamental part of our DNA and mission.”

Following the news of his passing on November 29, colleagues and friends of Erwitt were quick to send messages and memories of their time with the photographer. Below is a selection of these messages, paying tribute to the long-time Magnum member and one of the greats in the history of photography.

Inge Morath and Elliott Erwitt. New York, USA, 1950. © Eve Arnold / Magnum Photos

David Hurn

“Elliot represented everything that was good about Magnum. Family, honesty, generosity, and a wonderful photographer. So many memories from him staying with me in Bayswater, and so many good memories from me staying with him in New York. I will miss him so much.”

Elliott Erwitt and Burt Glinn. New York, 1966. © Marilyn Silverstone / Magnum Photos

Elena Glinn

“When Burt and I married at our Central Park West apartment on March 14, 1981, our best man was Elliott. Elliott and his wife Susan Ringo gave us a Rehearsal Dinner the night before with lobster and champagne and told guests ‘bring something to rehearse.’  Elliott was also our wedding photographer.

“He jumped out and captured the moment and then jumped back in. And he and Burt looked marvelous indeed. 

“My mother participated in the ceremony and my BFF since we were 15, Rima, was my Best Woman standing up for me and helping my mother to stand up. The photos were so great that the New York Times heard about it and used the wedding and photos in their Sunday HOME section two weeks later. 

“Elliott did indeed speak English, French, Italian and Russian, and as Burt liked to say ‘Elliott was terce in four different languages.’ 

“At a cocktail party one night a guest asked Elliott what he thought of photography as a ‘fine art.’  Elliott replied with his smirky grin,  ‘Fine by me!’

 “What will the world be like without his minimal bon mots? Certainly not as funny… but we do have his snaps! Thank you dear Elliott for your many decisive moments. 

“We miss you already.  And love you so much.”

Ferdinando Scianna and Elliott Erwitt. © Patrick Zachmann / Magnum Photos

Ferdinando Scianna

“Great man, great friend, a giant of photography.”

Magnum Photos Meeting. From left to right. Foreground: Inge Bondi, John Morris, Barbara Miller, Cornell Capa, Rene Burri, Erich Lessing. Middle: Michel Chevalier. Background: Elliott Erwitt, Henri (...)

Susan Meiselas

“Elliott had a brilliant eye and mind, creating iconic images whether on the street or a movie set. He was also enormously generous within the family of Magnum. Together with Robert Capa, they fought for the protection of copyright for all photographers. This to me is his greatest legacy.”

From left to right: Josef Koudelka, Dennis Stock, Elliott Erwitt and Henri Cartier-Bresson. Paris, June 1982. © Guy le Querrec / Magnum Photos

Guy le Querrec 

“Humor has taken a heavy toll. The dogs are in mourning and so are we! And meanwhile, the war goes on and on, as if nothing had happened … “

David Hurn, Constantine Manos, Elliott Erwitt, Richard Kalvar, Paul Fusco and Sebastio Salgado. New York, USA, 1989. © Peter Marlow / Magnum Photos

Ian Berry 

“Hard to accept the loss of Elliott, one of the last great Magnum photographers. When I first joined Magnum as a green junior, I asked each of the members what they could advise as a new member. Had lots of good advice as to where to eat etc, but from Elliott, I got after much thought, ‘Never give up your copyright.’ the best advice I’ve ever had from Magnum and with me to this day. Condolences to the family.”

Inge Morath, Marc Riboud, and Elliott Erwitt. Paris, France, 1957. © Inge Morath / Magnum Photos

Catherine Riboud 

“Elliott was totally UNIQUE! Unique by his incredible visual talent; by his capacity to be so funny and also serious and profound; so joyful and yet sometimes even sad and melancholic.

“Marc and Elliott both joined Magnum in 1953 and from then on Marc’s admiration for him grew as did his love too. I have many short stories that remind me of Elliott’s unique sense of humor.

“Here is one of them: we were about five people squeezed into a car en route to the memorial ceremony being given for Henri Cartier-Bresson. It was being held at the Théâtre du Soleil, located in the huge Bois de Vincennes just outside of Paris. Somehow we got a bit lost trying to find the place. It was getting dark when suddenly a little voice popped up from the back seat asking: ‘Are we still in France?’ Of course, it was Elliott using his subtle sense of humor to express his impatience with this endless meandering.

“Thanks Elliott for all you have given to your family, to photography, to Magnum and to each of us.”

Magnum Photos Annual General Meeting. New York, USA, 1989. © René Burri / Magnum Photos

Eli Reed

“Elliot came from a Magnum generation that always had it deep in their hearts the hopes and dreams of continuing the reasons that Magnum came into existence… They made photographs that mattered and spoke to the hearts of those who saw the photographs. The intelligence and emotional will in the photographs created from the beginning by the Magnum photographers meant something because the essence of the delivered photography would stay in the mind of the many viewers who would end with the memory embedded deep in their collective souls.

“Elliot celebrated that essence of mind, beauty, and a willful memory of continuing history. I have hope for our fellow members along with the many people who admire the work coming out of truthful history. It helps point us toward the many truths of life that the photographers of Magnum have delivered inside its many cores of existence. I would hope that in our collective sadness of losing Elliot — who was a truth teller in so many ways that inspired so many by his vision that will live on throughout history.”

Elliott Erwitt and John F. Hillelson, Magnum representative in England. London, 1959. © René Burri / Magnum Photos
Elliott Erwitt photographs while author Robert J. Donovan works with President John F. Kennedy. Washington D.C., USA, 1961. © Elliott Erwitt / Magnum Photos

Steve McCurry

“Elliott Erwitt holds a special place in my memories as a steadfast friend, a bold photographer, and a man of unwavering integrity. When asked for advice to offer aspiring young photographers, my consistent recommendation is to immerse themselves in the vast body of work created by Elliott, my esteemed colleague renowned for his exceptional career.

“Reflecting on Elliott’s legacy, I am certain that there will never be another photographer quite like him, seamlessly blending profound work with subtle humor. As a testament to his impact, my sister gifted me my first photo book, Son of a Bitch, a collection of Elliott’s pictures featuring dogs and their humans. This marked my introduction to a unique combination of humor, pathos, and compelling storytelling in animal photography.

“In the early stages of my photography journey, I not only found inspiration in studying his work, but took a workshop with him which was my first introduction to Elliott, the man. It has been an honor to not only call him a friend but also a Magnum colleague, consistently providing a wellspring of creative inspiration.”

Self Portrait. Reno, Nevada, USA, 1960. © Elliott Erwitt / Magnum Photos

Alex Majoli

“I think Elliott was the last Magnum photographer that could say: ‘I remember once Bob told me…’
With Ferdinando, they make it very easy for me to adapt to the agency. His discrete silence will be missed.” 

François Hebel

“At Magnum he was such a great companion, though he would not much interfere, his wise presence was giving thickness to the group, despite his very funny understated jokes.

“Entering his beautiful home, where I had the chance to sleep a few times, was like entering an adult circus. The twenty remote controls on the table were one of his best surrealist gag.

“I was so happy that he accepted to perform an evening show at the antique theater in Arles in 2012, the public laughed for the 45-minute projection (online on Arles website). This is really a turning page of the pioneers of modern photography where he invented his own comic genre. I will personally miss him deeply.”

More on this: 

Remembering Elliott Erwitt (1928–2023)

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