Elliott Erwitt, Jack Kerouac (1953), copyright Magnum

Jack Kerouac by Elliott Erwitt

The Magnum photographer shot the On The Road author the year he joined the renowned photo agency

In 1950s America, if you were a creative with ambition to work as a professional, you would most likely make the move to New York. The decade saw an influx of writers, artists and photographers, and the emergence of the ‘Beat’ movement - a group of American post-World War II writers who had a fresh and challenging perspective on drugs, alternative forms of sexuality, an interest in Eastern religion, and a rejection of materialism. Among them was writer Jack Kerouac whose 1951 novel _On The Road _became a defining piece of Beat literature – and is about to be released as a film starring Sam Riley as the narrator Sal Paradise.

Meanwhile, the French-born Elliott Erwitt - who had moved to Hollywood in 1929 with his Russian Parents - arrived in New York in 1948 to enroll at The New School. By the early 1950s he was working as a photographer’s assistant and doing odd corporate jobs such as documenting the city of Pittsburgh for the Standard Oil Company. His candid shots pricked the interest of legendary photo agency Magnum and in 1953 he was signed to their books. In the same year Erwitt took the portrait above of Kerouac in the city.



Elliott Erwitt, Jack Kerouac (1953), copyright Magnum


Erwitt went on to serve as Magnum’s president for three years in the late 60s. His extensive collection of quirky, frequently humorous and always endearingly humanistic snapshots has filled the pages of some of Phaidon’s most loved photography editions. Museum Watching is an entertaining collection of images of people photographed unawares in museums, while Snaps  is a comprehensive exploration of Erwitt’s impressive career.



Elliott Erwitt, Provence, France (1955), copyright Magnum


Also available are limited edition collectible prints of Erwitt’s work: Valencia, Spain and Provence, France. Both are classic examples of his tongue in cheek outlook and ability to see beauty in even the mundane. Each print is signed by the photographer and comes numbered in a presentation box, along with 12 proofs.

Fans of Erwitt's work should check out Phaidon.com's other features on him, which includes gallery images and insights into both the professional and personal life of this celebrated image maker.