Arthur Miller, Frank Taylor (producer), Ely Wallach, John Houston, Montgomery Clift, Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable, "The Misfits" set, Reno, Nevada
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Gelatin silver print
Signed, in ink, au recto
Artist stamp, in ink, signed, titled, and dated, in pencil, au verso
Printed circa 2010
Image credit: © Elliott Erwitt/Magnum Photos
Born in Paris in 1928 to Russian parents, Erwitt spent his childhood in Milan, then emigrated to the US, via France, with his family in 1939. As a teenager living in Hollywood, he developed an interest in photography and worked in a commercial darkroom before experimenting with photography at Los Angeles City College. In 1948 he moved to New York and exchanged janitorial work for film classes at the New School for Social Research.
Erwitt traveled in France and Italy in 1949 with his trusty Rolleiflex camera. In 1951 he was drafted for military service and undertook various photographic duties while serving in a unit of the Army Signal Corps in Germany and France.
While in New York, Erwitt met Edward Steichen, Robert Capa and Roy Stryker, the former head of the Farm Security Administration. Stryker initially hired Erwitt to work for the Standard Oil Company, where he was building up a photographic library for the company, and subsequently commissioned him to undertake a project documenting the city of Pittsburgh.
In 1953 Erwitt joined Magnum Photos and worked as a freelance photographer for Collier’s, Look, Life, Holiday and other luminaries in that golden period for illustrated magazines. To this day he is for hire and continues to work for a variety of journalistic and commercial outfits. In the late 1960s Erwitt served as Magnum’s president for three years. He then turned to film: in the 1970s he produced several noted documentaries and, in the 1980s, eighteen comedy films for Home Box Office. Erwitt became known for benevolent irony, and for a humanistic sensibility traditional to the spirit of Magnum.
– Biography source: Magnum Photos
Elliott Erwitt was one of eight Magnum Photographers that were given unrestricted access to the set of The Misfits, the film written by Arthur Miller as a gift for his soon-to-be ex-wife Marilyn Monroe. Directed by John Huston in 1961, The Misfits would be the final films for Monroe and Clark Gable. Both actors delivered powerful performances – most critics consider this to be the best dramatic work by Monroe thanks, in part, to on-set coaching by the legendary Paula Strasberg – yet each would be dead within a year of completing production.
The troubled production of The Misfits has a storied life of its own thanks to the many challenges involved in bringing the movie to the screen – the intense Nevada heat; Huston’s alcohol and gambling addictions; Gable’s waning health; and Monroe’s own self-destructive tendencies which shut down production for several weeks so that she could receive treatment. Regardless of those daunting aspects, history remembers this film, and all involved, favourably. This on-set photograph, signed and stamped by Erwitt, shows the lead actors and the creative team responsible for bringing The Misfits to the screen. It is an illuminating document of that period.
How Magnum Photos told the story of cinema (PDF) – BBC, September 2017
Elliott Erwitt’s Visual One Liners (PDF) – The New Yorker, October 2016
Elliott Erwitt on photographing Che, Marilyn and Barack (PDF) – The Telegraph, November 2015
Life behind the lens: Elliott Erwitt on photographing the likes of Marilyn Monroe and John F Kennedy (PDF) – Evening Standard., April 2015
Elliott Erwitt at the Museo di Roma (PDF) – London Financial Times, May 2009
ART/PHOTOGRAPGY; Life on a Banana Peel: Elliott Erwitt’s View of an Absurd Cosmos (PDF) – New York Times, December 2003
PHOTOGRAPHY REVIEW; Finding the Little Jokes That Pass Unnoticed(PDF) – New York Times, July 2000