Elliott Erwitt was born in Paris in 1928 to Russian parents and spent most of his childhood in Milan, until he emigrated to the United States with his family when he was ten years old. As a teenager living in Hollywood, he developed an interest in photography and worked in a commercial darkroom before experimenting with photography at Los Angeles City College. In 1948 he moved to New York and exchanged janitorial work for film classes at the New School for Social Research. While in New York, Erwitt met Edward Steichen, Robert Capa and was Robert Frank’s first roommate.
Erwitt traveled in France and Italy in 1949 with his trusty Rolleiflex camera. In 1951 he was drafted for military service and served as a photographer’s assistant while serving in a unit of the Army Signal Corps in Germany and France. In 1953 Erwitt joined Magnum Photos and worked as a freelance photographer for Collier’s, Look, Life and Holiday. In the late 1960s, Erwitt served as Magnum’s president for three years.
Erwitt has had numerous one-person exhibitions in museums and galleries around the world including New York’s Museum of Modern Art, the Smithsonian Institution, the Art Institute of Chicago, Zurich’s Kunsthaus and Cologne’s Photokina. Several editions of a large retrospective exhibition based on his book Personal Exposures have been touring the United States, Europe and Japan since 1989. With over 15 books to his name and multiple terms as President of Magnum, Erwitt is still for hire and continues to work for a variety of journalistic and commercial outfits.