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“Untitled” by Elliott Erwitt, Pasadena, California (USA), 1963. Reference: PAR55339 (ERE1963003W00001/27)  © Elliott Erwitt/Magnum Photos.

Magnum Photos (Flash is required): “Untitled” by Elliott Erwitt, Pasadena, California (USA), 1963. On Magnum Photos website, this photo is image 30 of 52. Reference: PAR55339 (ERE1963003W00001/27). © Elliott Erwitt/Magnum Photos. Hi-res photo retrieved from LiveJournal.

During the summer of 2011, the International Center of Photography in New York held the exhibition “Elliott Erwitt: Personal Best” (from May 20 to August 28, 2011). For the occasion, New York Times art critic Ken Johnson wrote an article about it and took some specific interest in the photography depicted above:

In images of other famous people Mr. Erwitt got past the veils of myth and celebrity. Figures as different as Marilyn Monroe and Fidel Castro become real, sympathetic human beings. The image of Jacqueline Kennedy, caught momentarily alone in the crowd at the funeral of President John F. Kennedy, her face transformed by grief and worry, is heartbreaking.

But it is ordinary life to which Mr. Erwitt has been most acutely attuned and where he finds moments of allegorical epiphany. In a picture from 1963, two women stand on either side of a park bench, looking in different directions. A third sits between them with an unusually large baby sprawled on her lap. A sign posted high on the wire fence behind them announces “Lost Persons Area.” Obviously, it is a place at a fair or concert where people can go to find friends or family members from whom they’ve been temporarily separated.

But there is a funny, paradoxical multiplication of meaning. Do these ladies not know where they are? Are they suffering from a purgatorial spiritual condition? Are they hoping to be found, as in the song “Amazing Grace?” Well, Mr. Erwitt found them, and that is what counts.

I for one would like to see it as an allegory of our modern “togetherness”. In fact, it would be interesting to shoot more photos like this one, showing people waiting at a bus station, a train station, in an airport, in line for a movie ticket, by a restroom, but while each time adding the very same sign saying “Lost Person Area” in the background.

Elliott Erwin is a renowned American photograph closely associated with the famous agency Magnum Photos. He was born in France in 1928 from Russian émigré parents. From his official website (Flash is required):

By good fortune while looking for work on exploratory trips to New York City prior to his military service, he met Edward Steichen, Robert Capa and Roy Stryker who liked his photographs and took a personal guiding interest becoming significant mentors

In 1953 freshly decommissioned from military service, Elliott Erwitt was invited to join Magnum Photos as a member by its founder Robert Capa. In 1968 he became President of the prestigious agency for 3 terms. To date he continues to be an active member and one of the leading figures in the competitive field of photography.

See also the press release for the exhibition Elliott Erwitt. Six Decades held at the Andre Smith Gallery in 2006.

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