Jackie Kennedy, Arlington, Virginia, 1963. © Elliott Erwitt / Magnum Photos
"Spanning more than six decades of Elliott Erwitt's career, the archive covers not only his work for magazine, industrial and advertising clients but also photographs that have emerged from personal interests," says the Harry Ransom Center, the humanities research library and museum at the University of Texas at Austin.
The collection was previously held by collectors and philanthropists Caryl and Israel Englander. Now, it will be placed at the Center for the next five years, with the goal of making it accessible to researchers, scholars and students.
"Caryl and Israel Englander first approached us a few months ago," says Jen Tisdale, director of public affairs at the Harry Ransom Center. "I don't think they had been in ownership of the archives for a very long time before turning to us."
The placement comes 18 months after Michael Dell donated Magnum Photos' US press print archives to the Center. "We hope that since the Magnum Archives are here, it will act as a magnet for other photographers," says photography curator David Coleman.
But, he adds, "every archive is different." Now, the Center must go through the process of cataloguing Erwitt's work. "We now have all of his studio print inventory, as well as vintage prints," Coleman tells BJP. "We have to figure out how we're going to make all of this available to the public for research."
While it took three to four months for the Magnum Archives to become available to the public, Coleman believes it might take longer with Erwitt's images. "The record-keeping and database is very different," he explains.
Coleman adds that Erwitt's archives won't be mixed with Magnum's. "These are two distinct collections, and they will be available on their own. Of course, there is some overlap in the imagery, but in the case of Magnum, what we have are 8x10 press prints. With Erwitt's archives, they are all signed, gallery-quality prints. I think it's a good thing that we have two different versions of these photos - for educational and historical purposes."
The Harry Ransom Center is already planning an exhibition of Erwitt's work, which will take place around 2015 or 2016, says Coleman. Currently, the Center has no plan to make these archives available for consultation online. "That's because Magnum still represents all of their photographers, so we can't display them online. But we're in discussion with Erwitt about this," he adds.
Nikita Khrushchev and Richard Nixon, Moscow, 1959. © Elliott Erwitt / Magnum Photos.
Background information on Elliott Erwitt, as provided by the Harry Ransom Center:
Born in Paris to Russian émigré parents, Erwitt spent his formative years in Milan and then immigrated to the United States, living in Los Angeles and ultimately New York. In 1948, Erwitt actively began his career and met photographers Robert Capa, Edward Steichen and Roy Stryker, all who would become mentors.
In 1953, Erwitt was invited to join Magnum Photos by Capa, one of the founders of the photographic co-operative. Ten years later, Erwitt became president of the agency for three terms. A member of the Magnum organization for more than 50 years, Erwitt's archive will be held alongside the Magnum Photos collection at the Ransom Center.
While many of Erwitt's photographs capture the famous, from Richard Nixon arguing with Nikita Khrushchev in Moscow in 1959 to Jacqueline Kennedy at her husband's funeral, other subjects include everyday people, places and even dogs, a longtime love of Erwitt's.
"The work I care about is terribly simple," said Erwitt in "Personal Exposures" (1988). "I observe, I try to entertain, but above all I want pictures that are emotion. Little else interests me in photography. Today, so much is being done by unemotional people, or at least it looks that way... I mean, work that's fascinating and fun and clever and technically brilliant. But if it's not personal, then it misses what interesting photography is about."
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