As a teenager living in 1940s Hollywood, Elliott Erwitt discovered that he could earn an easy buck by hiring himself out as a wedding photographer. By the time he was in his 20s, he was honing his craft photographing barracks life in post-second-world-war France, before returning to the US to work as a freelance photographer for illustrated magazines including Collier’s, Look, Life and Holiday. Later, he went on to serve as president of Magnum, the renowned photographic co-operative. He became best known for his “visual one-liners”: images that often captured quiet absurdities and ironies. One typically witty photograph shows a crop of a woman in knee-high boots. Beside her stands a long-legged dog, but its hind legs are out of frame – so it seems almost human.

New Orleans, 1947
New Orleans, 1947 © Elliott Erwitt/Magnum Photos
New York City, 1954
New York City, 1954 © Elliott Erwitt/Magnum Photos
New York City, 1955
New York City, 1955 © Elliott Erwitt/Magnum Photos
Found, Not Lost, by Elliott Erwitt (Gost Books, £60)
Found, Not Lost, by Elliott Erwitt (Gost Books, £60)

In 2018, at the age of 90, Erwitt decided to revisit his archive. He has spent the past two years sifting through more than 600,000 of his photographs, some of them developed in a laundry room aged 17. The result is a new book, Found, Not Lost, which gathers together 170 previously unseen photographs, some of which he had initially disregarded with notes such as “Pix Useless”. The book reveals a quieter, more gentle side to Erwitt’s style, through pictures often taken between assignments. One such photograph, taken in 1947 when Erwitt was a teenager, shows two girls in New Orleans, smiling naturally at the camera, while another is of his first wife, Lucienne, holding their daughter in a moment of tender intimacy. 

New Rochelle, 1960
New Rochelle, 1960 © Elliott Erwitt/Magnum Photos
Blackpool, England, 1975
Blackpool, England, 1975 © Elliott Erwitt/Magnum Photos
New York City, 1948
New York City, 1948 © Elliott Erwitt/Magnum Photos

“In my 90s, my work looks different than I’ve ever seen it before,” says Erwitt. “There’s a time for photographs that say ‘hello’ and there’s a time to listen.”

Found, Not Lost, by Elliott Erwitt, with a foreword by Vaughn Wallace, is published by Gost Books at £60

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