A new book reprises an early portfolio put together by Elliot Erwitt, on commission for the legendary Roy Stryker
Elliot Erwitt was just 22 years old when he was commissioned to shoot Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania by the legendary Roy Stryker in 1950. Stryker had won fame and lasting respect for his work with the Farm Security Administration in the 1930s, commissioning photographers such as Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans to shoot America’s rural heartland at the height of the Depression; by 1950 he was working with a new organisation, the Pittsburgh Photographic Library, charged with shooting the formerly industrial, notoriously polluted city as it transformed into a modern metropolis.
Stryker had met Erwitt when the youngster was still studying in New York, and had commissioned him to work on a Standard Oil project alongside photographers such as Berenice Abbott, Gordon Parks and Russell Lee. The young image-maker must have impressed him because, when invited to document Pittsburgh by the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, Stryker commissioned Erwitt and – unusually for him – gave him free reign to shoot what he liked. Erwitt shot on the project for a year, until he was drafted into the Army Signal Corps in Germany.
Also unusual for Stryker was the fact that he filed away the discarded negatives for this project in their entirety, rather than punching holes in them, rendering them unusable. A new book, Pittsburgh: 1950 by Elliot Erwitt is a new edit of this long-overlooked portfolio of work, which draws on both the images Stryker edited, and the ones he ‘killed’ back in the day.
Pittsburgh: 1950 by Elliot Erwitt is published by GOST Books, priced £45. www.gostbooks.com