All Articles
All Articles

Interview: Elliott Erwitt

The iconic photographer's book "Kolor" spans over 50 years of historic color images

by David Graver
on 04 September 2013

Even if you are not familiar with his name, you've seen his photography. Elliott Erwitt's work captures historic moments, famous faces and breathtaking landscapes. For over 50 years the NYC-based photographer has been amassing culture defining imagery. Now, his first book of color photographs, the appropriately titled and bearing a nod to George Eastman—"Kolor"—graces bookshelves. Published this month by teNeues, "Kolor" features 240 photographs selected from a vast archive of almost-forgotten Kodachrome and Ektachrome film slides. This tome—by way of exquisite, crisp color photography—documents so much of the last half of the 20th century. Erwitt was there; he captured it. There are moments of great comedy, instances of deep reflection and appreciation and his editorial eye embraces each subject with understanding and delivers it to the viewer with inspiration. The entire collection is nothing shy of epic.

From over 500,000 images, Erwitt selected moments such as Marilyn Monroe's white halter dress flying up over the subway grate, to portraits of Che Guevara, Fidel Castro, and John F Kennedy in the Oval Office. At times, it is impossible to believe one man was able to see it all. The photos stand as a diary of memories and is presented as such, with juxtaposition ignoring chronology, but focusing on the movement of the eye. CH discussed "Kolor" with Erwitt, in an attempt to better understand the man who embedded the visuals into our brains for so many milestones.

This is your first book of color photographs. Why this project, now?

This is actually my second. The first was under an assumed name. It came out three or four years ago, but it was a spoof. As for why now—why not?

How did you skim through over half a million images to select the 420 that were included?

I had help from a team of two. Most of these images were in storage. We had been at it for a long time. We made little prints and began putting them on the floor to begin sequencing. We were looking for flow. We began to cut down our selections from there.

Did you set out with a dominant through-line for all the images that would be included? Or did you discover one?

Surprise. Many pictures I had forgotten about or didn't even know I had. Some were from assignments, others were not. Some date back to the early '50s. I was quite surprised by what I saw. Kodachrome is impervious to change. Ektachrome is fugitive, but we've managed to restore great quality.

Regarding layout, how did you decide to place the photos together?

I once again worked with designer Stuart Smith, who came in from London. We began laying everything out on the floor to see what we had.

This collection includes a diverse array of iconic moments, landscapes, and even shots that are inherently comedic. As a photographer, how were you able to master so many genres?

I don't know about mastering, but I've been at this for a very long time.

Do you have a personal favorite in this collection? If so, can you define the moment that created it?

There isn't one moment. There are a few. I recall taking each of those favorite photos under special circumstances.

These images are all Kodachrome or Ektachrome. What lead you to these types of film?

They were what was available at the time for what I was doing. Kodachrome was good to use and it is fast. Ektachrome could be developed quickly. When taking these photos, I wasn't figuring that I would be making a book 50 years later.

This project is so comprehensive. It feels like we are living your life across the last 50 years. What fell between these moments?

My black and white photographs are the in-between moments. They function more as a diary and are just as comprehensive. This was my left hand, you might say.

What do you hope this book will convey about your work?

Maybe half of these photos come from assignments. This was my "second camera." I want this book to amuse and entertain—to show people things that they haven't seen before.

"Kolor" is available for purchase from teNeues for $125. It is also available as a Collector's Edition limited to 100 copies, which is accompanied by a signed photo print. View more of Erwitt's photography in the gallery.

Images courtesy of teNeues Publishing. © Elliott Erwitt/Magnum Photos.

The CH25 is a showcase of creators and innovators from a broad range of disciplines who are currently working to drive the world forward.

Sarah Kunst

The entrepreneur single-handedly changing the landscape for women in tech

Read More
People who live on a planet that is half women but can never seem to find any when they need one, I have solved your problem

Tal Danino

The bioengineer who’s programming DNA to fight cancer

Read More
[Manipulating genes] is very new, people are just learning how to program these organisms

Kegan Schouwenburg

Revolutionizing orthotics through 3D-printed insoles

Read More
What orthotics do is they effectively change the geometry of what your alignment is like

Marcus Weller

Using technology to turn motorcycle helmet design on its head

Read More
I was taken aback both by the number of people that doubted it, and by the equally large number of people that got behind it

Matt Kenyon

Fusing art and technology to disrupt concepts of corporate America

Read More
I want the work to live in the world and circulate, so it can generate more dialogue

Melissa Kushner

Addressing the needs of orphans and vulnerable children in Malawi through microenterprise

Read More
Poverty is complicated, there is an increasing temptation and pressure in the development space to oversimplify things

Tarren Wolfe

The next-generation appliance making kitchens greener—literally

Read More
Our goal is to provide food for everyone in the world, and the best place to start is in our very own community

Joshua Harker

Pushing the boundaries of sculpture with intricate 3D printing

Read More
My intent was to explore and depict the architecture of the imagination, to interpret and share forms evident in the mind’s eye

Roxie Darling

From un-shampoo to transgender identity, the NYC colorist boldly defining the next chapter of hair

Read More
Hair color is as much a science as it is a craft

Alex Kalman

The tiny museum in Manhattan that’s redefining museums

Read More
The mission is to put this small simple and powerful tool into the hands of as many people as possible

Meredith Perry

How searching the Internet helped a 22-year-old invent wireless electricity

Read More
It’s not about where the information is, it’s about how you use the tools

Pauline van Dongen

The Dutch designer blazing the wearable technology path

Read More
I’m fascinated by concepts of change, movement, energy and perception; since they are closely related to the way we experience the world

Eelke Plasmeijer

The locally driven restaurant that’s upending Balinese food culture

Read More
We really try to keep things simple and let the produce do the talking

Sabine Seymour

A future where smart clothes are as ubiquitous as zippers

Read More
In the future you will not buy a piece of 'functional' clothing without SoftSpot

Lulu Mickelson

A civic leader bringing change to NYC through design

Read More
Human-centered design is one of the many tools that we can use to better engage the public

Kathleen Supové

The NYC performance artist who’s radically reinventing the piano recital

Read More
I like pieces that are virtuosic, that show off the piano and what it can do, and are awe-inspiring

Jonathan Sparks

Reinventing electronic music by inventing multi-disciplinary instruments

Read More
Recorded music is becoming so cheap, so the value of music is now in live performance

Douglas Riboud + Justin Guilbert

How a mission to create great coconut water led to a whole new way of doing business

Read More
We’ve made a conscious decision to be as transparent and honest as we can, and let people decide for themselves

Dan Barasch + James Ramsey

A quest to make the future brighter—underground

Read More
We both share a passion for groundbreaking technology and a shared love of New York

Cynthia Breazeal

How an emotional, empathetic robot named Jibo stands to revolutionize communication

Read More
The thing that's so provocative about social robots is that it's fundamentally a community technology

LaToya Ruby Frazier

Documenting the slow, troubling change in Braddock, Pennsylvania

Read More
I am not a journalist, I am a conceptual documentary artist using my visual expression for building narratives that are unseen and unheard

Vanessa Newman

Redesigning pregnancy for the post-gender generation with Butchbaby & Co.

Read More
I want my customers to feel comfortable and unchanged, in that becoming pregnant didn't take away from or compromise their identity

Corinne Joachim Sanon

The chocolatier bringing social change to Haiti and bean-to-bar chocolate to the world

Read More
Seeing the poverty surrounding me and the lack of jobs and opportunity bothered me

Leopoldine Huyghues Despointes

The young filmmaker and non-profit founder who just wants people to follow their dreams

Read More
I feel confident and ready to accomplish so much more, the movement is on

George Arriola and Monohm

An heirloom electronic for the post-smartphone era

Read More
We agonized during the design process as all hyper-obsessed craftspeople should
Loading More...