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July 13, 2004
A brief and very inprecise description of an excellent lecture by Elliott Erwitt at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, to which nobody wanted to join me and which ended up being remuneration for some previous suffering at that same location.

I don�t even know how many times I called the box office to make sure there would be tickets available for tonight’s event. Should I just have made the assumption that if none of the people I would like to join me for the lecture could make it, then not many people in the city in general would be able to make it tonight? Seriously, nobody I asked had time to join me. I almost felt, as if I were trying to convince my friends, one by one, to watch my bloodthirsty dog. And it was not even a secret what I was being let go alone for. There were the �meetings�, the rope jumping class, one guy even cancelled on me because he really wanted to finish a conversation he had about a closed envelope in the lobby of the agency. How very sad.
It was not until I was in the cab, stuck in traffic going uptown on eight Avenue that I realized that I should have called a completely different set of friends. But it was too late, and I do not have a cell phone… oh well… And I actually somehow imagined that they would have also have heard of the Elliott Erwitt lecture at the Guggenheim. And so I expected to see them there, it would be a small miracle, but they would be there. So many picture takers and posters went to the Photobloggers event at the Apple Store� so at least somebody should make it to the Guggenheim� when I entered the very tastefully decorated room under the Museum, there were maybe thirty or so people waiting for the event. I could have sworn that one of the most prominent online couples was right there in the center� until the little man spoke� and turned out to be a woman.
The intimate setting felt perfect for a very friendly conversation. The cream colored chairs were as friendly as the color of the carpet. The circles of the Frank Lloyd Wright design extended all the way to here. Even a shark fin shaped window with nothing but mild light behind it felt perfectly in place. (That strange plastic watch hanging by a rubber band did not…)
The little photograph projected onto the screen in front of us was of a little boy in a sailor uniform, underneath it the name: �Elliott Erwitt�.

Jennifer Blessing read a short and very well focused introduction, pointing to Erwitt’s travels, his connection to Edward Steichen, Robert Capa, Robert Frank… some minor announcements, some volume adjustments and the evening could begin.
Elliott Erwitt took the stage. He was clearly not the youngest person in the room, but he was very relaxed, he had brought with him a disarming smile and a very friendly and warm voice.
He explained how the picture of the boy in the sailor suit was the most recent flattering photograph of himself he could find.
He thanked the audience for showing up� this made me laugh.

The lecture was not really a lecture. It was a rather relaxed conversation, a very organically selected slideshow of Erwitt’s “hobby” work.
The photographer operated his powerbook with true grace, and we went from image to image, from story to story, from sequence of images to sequence of images� there were the occasional background anecdote, sometimes just the image� waiting for the slow audience to find the not really hidden funny point� The laughter would sometimes arrive ten seconds after the slide was turned on… proving to me the slowness of even focussed aperception.
Elliott Erwitt appeared as warm and human in person as the world he presented slide after slide. It felt like a great confirmation of that Schoppenhauer statement that we do not really enjoy the world; we enjoy ourselves in it. And so what we saw, image after image, after image, were little pieces of Elliott Erwitt, sometimes taking shape as on screen stars of the 50�s sometimes turning into little dogs, or even people in a nudist colony.
No, he was not all these people, but he was the one that turned them from an uninterrupted steam of moments in their lives, into these iconic frames, uncropped, often taken without any knowledge of those in the frame� these were his moments, his people now� and looking at them was as much fun as listening to him telling us about them.
And some images were never taken. And the images we saw were taken as part of his hobby. Many were taken between assignments. Many were taken on the way to his studio. It was as if he were showing us drawings he had made on the train and we all imagined that this was his actual work… he smiled when he said that he made his living with photographs that were not shown tonight.
Good and inspiring experience, I really wanted to just walk up to the man and thank him� I didn’t do that though…
There was a line at the end of the lecture, of course. People with their books ready for the signatures, some with just the program, just to have something, anything to get signed�
I did not get a signature, or even a handshake… and yet I took with me some of the fun and good advice�

Barking at dogs can actually make better pictures. (It got me a good bite in my shin when I tried it as a child.)

One should not necessarily refrain from taking a picture because somebody says so. Many interesting pictures were not supposed to be taken.

Sometimes it is a good idea to cough while pressing the shutter� sometimes it is not a good idea at all.

It is sometimes more difficult to shoot at home�

People who sue for being depicted in a particular picture, sometimes are not in it at all.

Driving is dangerous for a photographer�

It is a really good idea to keep the stuff for years and to keep the copyright�

Oh, and Black and White is here to stay� as long as there are those who like to shoot in Black and White�

I walked home across the park. There was a bicycle race, the joggers were as unique and as sweaty as usual� The sun had already set, and so the skyline of Midtown was just beginning to become darker and to be punctured by more and more little lights turned by those who had to work overtime.
And the park smelled like a freshly watered plant as well. It was all good then and there. I am really glad I went�

Oh and I also remember why I was so panicked about getting, or not getting the tickets. It is a barely related story, of course. This one time when I missed a lecture here at the Guggenheim because I found out about it too damn late, was when I was led here by a person with a slightly instable personality� that was years and years ago. Us not getting tickets to the event felt like losing a child in a fire: and I was made the one who had had the water, I was the one who had failed to use it… I was the one responsible for the death of the child… (The only child� the last child to be ever born in this universe…)
Those were really cruel times…
Going to this nice little lecture under the Guggenheim alone this evening was probably a reward, given to me by the universe. It was remuneration for several hours of horrible, horrible suffering somewhere in 1998�

I do feel much better now�

Wuff� .

(Sorry� just had to do that�) : )

Oh and Elliott Erwitt has a Website… and it is called… Elliott Erwitt dot com and it also is very nice to pay a visit to… really…
(p.s. choose “Latin” as your language…) ; )


Bravo for this post, Witold. Your incredibly vivid and detailed description of your (nticipation and) experience of the event helped me imagine to what it was really like to have been at the lecture too! I really wish I could have attended. Pity we don't have Magnum photographers speaking very often here in Tokyo...you are very fortunate to be surrounded by such photography greats.

Posted by: lil on July 14, 2004 02:54 AM

Oh, thank you so much Lil. : )
What is it that makes me think that there are many photography greats in Tokyo... : )

Posted by: Witold Riedel on July 14, 2004 09:24 AM

Witold, surely you must've asked the wrong people to accompany you to see the wonderful Elliot Erwin. That would be an offer I simply wouldn't refuse - unfinished conversations or not. How silly of them.

'Solitude is the richness of self' says May Sarton

.... which isn't meant to sound depressing, really.

Posted by: Katya on July 14, 2004 05:09 PM

Hey I would have gone to the lecture. I love his photographs!

Posted by: stoink on July 14, 2004 07:28 PM
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