Elliott Erwitt - From Cuban Revolutionaries to Canine friends

I have long been an admirer of the great Elliott Erwitt. His work always has a sense of wonder about it as well as a stroke of the genius. He was also the photographer that gave me my first and only experience to date of laughing out loud at a gallery show.

Back in the hazy summer days of 1992, I visited Erwitt's touring exhibition, a retrospective of his career at the Royal Photographic Society in Bath, England. In over forty years of visiting photography exhibitions - which can often be a quiet and contemplative experience - I had never previously experienced people laughing out loud at a show.

Gone was the studious atmosphere that exhibitions often evoke, replaced with raucous and unbridled laughter echoing around the gallery. The atmosphere was more akin to that of a comedy gig than a photography exhibition and with good reason.

Photo: Dogs by Elliott Erwitt

A large majority of the exhibition featured many of Erwitt's quite brilliant images from his series on Dogs. Erwitt produced four books on his canine friends including, 'Son of Bitch' (1974), 'To the Dogs' (1992), 'Dog Dogs' (1998) and 'Woof' (2005). All these images were simply first class; technically perfect and with a wry sense of humour that was the essence of his work. One fellow Magnum photographer often referred to Erwitt as "Half man, half Dog!"

But Erwitt was no one trick pony, far from it. He was also renowned for his brilliant portrait and documentary work and was originally asked to join the esteemed photographic agency, Magnum, by its founder Robert Capa. An honour indeed.

In 1964, while on assignment for Newsweek magazine, Erwitt spent a week in Cuba as a guest of Fidel Castro. There, he captured now-iconic photographs of the beloved Cuban president along with the revolutionary leader Che Guevara.

These images have inspired many photographers, myself included.. They hold a special place in history, having an almost Hollywood quality to them. The portraits of Che Guevara could be stills from a movie and the images of Fidel Castro amongst his people perfectly captures the special relationship between Castro and the Cuban people. 

Che Guevara by Elliott Erwitt
Che Guevara by Elliott Erwitt

Che Guevara by Elliott Erwitt
Che Guevara by Elliott Erwitt

Fidel Castro by Elliott Erwitt, Cuba
Fidel Castro with fellow revolutionaries by Elliott Erwitt

Che Guevara Speech to the Cuban People by Elliot Erwitt
Che Guevara addresses the Cuban People. Photo by Elliott Erwitt

Fidel Castro in Cuba. Photo by Elliott Erwitt
Fidel Castro: the Cuban People's Leader by Elliot Erwitt

Fidel Casto. Cuban Leader. Photo by Elliott Erwitt
Fidel Castro: the Cuban People's Leader by Elliot Erwitt

His technique is faultless, but he always stresses that the instinct that creates great photography is casual and uncontrollable: "I'll always be an amateur photographer," he says, pointing out that the word amateur comes from the Latin for 'to love'.

"Elliott, has to my mind achieved a miracle," says Henri Cartier-Bresson, "working on a chain-gang of commercial campaigns and still offering a bouquet of stolen photos with a flavour, a smile from his deeper self."

Hear, hear.

Check out our Cuba Collection at 100Prints.co.uk.

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