Buy books not gear (2)

IMG_7501With my first episode of “buy books not gear” drawing a huge response, here is the second edition of my new series about great photography books I own and which, by studying them, most likely help me improve my photography much more than buying yet another new camera or lens (ever heard about G.A.S. ?)

This post is about Elliott Erwitt’s coffee table book “Snaps”. For the book introduction and a few of Elliott’s photographs continue after the jump…


Elliott Erwitt (born 1928) is my principal Street Photography Hero. Without doubt one of the greatest photographers of our time, he describes himself as “a professional photographer by trade and an amateur photographer by vocation.” A member of the famous Magnum agency since 1954, he has taken his camera all over the world and his pictures have been the subject of many awesome books (like “Kolor” and his famous books about street life in Paris, Rome and New York) and in exhibitions worldwide. Artist, documenter and commercial photographer (he shot also many advertisement images), his work spans many traditions, subjects and approaches to photography. What I believe sets Elliott Erwitt’s work apart, is his easily distinguishable humorous style, showing his viewers a snapshot of the famous and the ordinary, the strange and the mundane, covering a period of more than half a century. In his images, this amazing photographer often plays with ambiguity, thus also playing visual games with his viewers. I admire him because his photographs are a showcase to create images that carry a story, and sometimes more than one.

“Snaps” contains more than 500 photographs, many of which have never been published before. This book provides a comprehensive overview of Elliott Erwitt’s work. You find his famous images like the one of Nikita Khrushchev and Richard Nixon arguing in Moscow in 1959, the Che Guevara portrait or the one of Marilyn Monroe with the cast of the movie The Misfits, to his many much more personal images of people, animals, places and simple objects.

The book contains nine chapters, all with a one-word title: Look, Move, Play, Read, Rest, Touch, Tell, Point, Stand. This shows also Erwitt’s approach to Street Photography, documenting life as it happens, and the chapters cover simply the things people do, be it the rich or the ordinary.  The whole book, as is practically his whole body of work, is a celebration of life. , these are the basic actions of life – the things people do.

One of my treasured photographic possessions is a print of Erwitt’s Hungarian schoolgirls following a flock of geese, a photograph that is also in this book. The print, which I acquired in a Magnum photo sale, is autographed on the backside by Elliot Erwitt himself.


All images in this post (except the first and the last two) are by Elliott Erwitt and taken out of the book for the sole purpose of this review.

I hope you liked the second of my new series “buy books not gear”, and there is more to come.

If you look for tips and inspirations around photography, check out my free Learning Center. Here, I will also post the links to all my book reviews.

Wish you a great Weekend!


Related Posts:

Instant Inspiration (22) – Variations on a Billboard

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Street Photography Quick Tip 8 – Capturing Gesture

Street Photography Quick Tip 11 – Using Color Accents

37 thoughts on “Buy books not gear (2)

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  1. I am pretty sure that photograph of mother and child was used in a book titled From Birth to Twelve Months, which I devoured when I was a young mother in the 80’s. Unfortunately, I cannot find my copy of it, though I still have the next in the series, complete with all my scribblings in the margins documenting my daughter’s developmental milestones. Thank you for sharing this! Off to find a copy of the book now. 😉

  2. Fantastic recommendation! If I could choose only one photographer’s work to see for the rest of my life, I think it would be Elliott Erwitt, exactly for the reasons you listed here. He has Cartier-Bresson’s instinct for the decisive moment, Ansel Adams’ understanding of negative space, and Vivian Maier’s fascination with ordinary people — but the extra element of humor in so much of his work is just irresistible. Thank you so much for making me aware of this book.

  3. thanks for the work of Elliott Erwitt… good info here – and it inspired me to keep doing what I do. We all have our own journey with photos and shots that will be unique to the timing of our clicks.

  4. Elliott Erwitt… First time I saw his photographs I was fascinated by his compositions and then I discovered the photographs of dogs he took on the streets. They were so interesting sometimes funny and absolutely unique. Elliot Erwitt is one of my favorite street photographers!
    Thank you for this post, Marcus! I had a great time reading it!

  5. Photography books are great and I buy when I can. But the “classics” can be very expensive even s/h as they are out of print. For example I’m amazed William Kleins New York has never been reprinted in recent years. But I agree – Erwitt’s work is truly magnificent.

    1. Thanks for commenting! It looks as I need to hunt down William Kleins New York. I will be in Portland the week after next and Powell’s is always a great source for used books! They have an awesome photography section!

  6. My dad was a designer and editor at Viking Press back in the day, so I grew up in a house filled with beautiful books. If I could afford to, I’d fill my shelves, as he did, with beautiful books. I will add Snaps to my growing list!

  7. Superb! Elliot Erwitt is an amazing photographer. I haven’t got any of his books so you’ve inspired me to order this one for myself. Looks like you have a fantastic collection of photography books!

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