Capturing the Whimsical, with Heart

“To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place . . . I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.”

-Elliott Erwitt

Expect to laugh when you go to ICP’s exhibit ‘Elliott Erwitt: Personal Best.’ Continuously throughout my visit, I felt my eyes crinkling and lips curving up before my brain fully registered what I was seeing. In many of his shots, Erwitt captures fleeting moments of whimsy that pass too quickly to share, and often leave me walking down the block, smiling at the sidewalk. Instead, he gifts these moments to viewers with a rare compassion and humor that rejoices in re-framing the banal.

Dog Legs, New York City, 1974

As when I read a New Yorker cartoon, these Erwitt’s images cry out for a second glance or third look.

Prado Museum, Madrid, 1995

What struck me in many of these second glances is the deeper layers after the initial chuckle. The subjects were captured in a deeply humane way that inspired a kinship with the subject. For example in Pasadena, California, I too shared of a moment of worry with the mothers anxiously looking for their wandering children in the ‘lost persons area’ and imagined the relief and then anxiety of the potential punishment mothers might administer to a wayward child.

Pasadena, California, 1963

As with New Yorker cartoons, these images capture the gestalt of the times, the social mores of the sixties, seventies and beyond. Again in Pasadena, California, were women in some ways a the lost persons during that time, searching to redefine the role of women in their own eyes and in those of society? Could the two women standing on benches in pants, with the no-messing-around attitude be a harbinger of women in the board room, ready to take charge, anxious to get things started in contrast to the women seated on the park bench, seemingly unperturbed, tending the child on her lap and dressed in a knee-length dress. Clearly these are the images that lifted Erwitt’s work from the entertaining to the provocative.

Jacqueline Kennedy at John F. Kennedy’s funeral, Arlington, Virginia, November 25, 1963

Erwitt has had a long and distinguished career and in addition to these snatched moments of whimsy, this retrospective includes a wide variety of prints from capturing the tension of the ‘Kitchen Debate‘ between Krushchev-Nixon in 1959, to the sorrow of Jacqueline Kennedy at her husband’s funeral in 1963. He captured many notable figures in American history from novelist and poet Jack Kerouac, to actresses Marilyn Monroe and Marlene Dietrich.

In addition to this exhibit, ICP has on display two other extremely worthwhile exhibits, Hiroshima: Ground Zero 1945 and Ruth Gruber, Photojournalist.

ICP is a Passport to New York partner of the Arts Initiative at Columbia University. Students are allowed free entry with CUID and validation sticker for current semester available at Kent Hall (CU students), Thorndike Hall (TC students), or 1-405C P&S (med school campus students).
General Admission is $12.

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