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Elliott Erwitt: An American Jewish Photographer’s Fierce Wit

Photography lovers who will be in Italy should try to see “Elliott Erwitt’s Rome,” an exhibit which opened in November 13, 2009 and remains on view until January 31.

An accompanying volume published by teNeues sheds light on Erwitt. Born in Paris in 1928 to a Russian-Jewish family which moved to Milan but fled Mussolini in 1938, he resettled in Los Angeles in 1941. Erwitt grew up to be a Leopold Bloom of photography: gifted with a multi-layered Joycean wit, leavened with a dollop of fierce Dada sensibility.

In one 1955 image of a Rome street vendor, a portrait of Mussolini is shown on a pile of rubbishy art, but positioned atop the pile as a further subtle dig. A 2008 image, “Jewish Ghetto, Rome, Italy” shows a Hasidic Jew slouching past an ancient ruined building, which seems to symbolize the fleeting glory that was Rome. In another 2008 photo, a participant in an elaborate Catholic procession gives the (Jewish) photographer a murderous look, very timely in our era of “Holy Wars.”

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Elliott Erwitt: An American Jewish Photographer’s Fierce Wit

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