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  • All above photos © 2013 Elliott Erwitt/ Magnum Photos
  • Words by Mr Mansel Fletcher, Features Editor, MR PORTER

In 1953, age 25, Mr Elliott Erwitt had just left his post as a photographer's assistant in the US Army when he was invited to join the famous Magnum Photos agency by its co-founder Mr Robert Capa. If that sounds like a precocious achievement consider the fact that Mr Erwitt was working in a commercial darkroom while still at school, and met and befriended the photographers Messrs Edward Steichen, Capa and Roy Stryker in New York in his twenties. Mr Erwitt was born in Paris, spent his early childhood in Milan and moved to Los Angeles at the age of 11. He currently lives in New York and is widely perceived to be one of the greatest living photographers.

In the 61 years since he joined Magnum, Mr Erwitt has pursued an eminent career in photojournalism, acted as president of the agency, filmed documentaries and published nearly 30 books. However, he's probably now best known for his photographs of dogs, as well as the iconic shot of a couple kissing, reflected in a car's wing mirror, and the image of a grief-stricken Ms Jacqueline Kennedy at President John F Kennedy's funeral. The day MR PORTER met Mr Erwitt in London he was wearing a red tie bearing a dog print, and discussing a book about Scotland, titled Elliott Erwitt's Great Scottish Adventure, that was commissioned by The Macallan whisky brand for its Masters of Photography series.

Mr Erwitt at one of his exhibitions in Torino, Italy, April 2013

Do you still shoot on film?
Mostly, yes. On the odd occasion when it's required by a client I'll go digital. I'd rather shoot on film. I'm used to it, I've been doing it for years, it's familiar, I have greater control over it.
What is it that you like about film?
I like the look of it. I like the fact that I can manipulate it better. And I also like the inconvenience of taking the picture, processing it, looking at the contacts, making prints. It's more of an investment in the image than just clicking away and getting an instant result and going on to the next thing.
Do the shots benefit from the inconvenience?
I can only speak for myself - yes.
Does shooting on film affect how much you shoot?
Even with digital I shoot very little. And if you shoot a lot you have to look at a lot, and it's not necessary if you know what you're doing.
Why do you shoot in black and white?
Aesthetically I prefer it. It's a synthesis of what you see, rather than a description. It's a reduction of essentials, whereas colour is more of an illustration of what you see.
What camera do you use?
My basic camera is a Leica, but it doesn't do everything that I need to do so I like it as a walk-around camera, and I also use a Canon. But I could open a store of cameras as I have all kinds - large format, medium format. I'm a professional photographer so I need the tools.

People are more interesting than
anything else as a subject. Dogs are
very close behind; I would say that
they're people with more hair

What was the intention for your trip to Scotland?
We planned to cover as much ground as we could in the time allowed. In fact the commission was a 10-day job, but I liked it so I just extended it and I was able to persuade The Macallan to sponsor another trip when we did all the islands. So altogether we spent 38 or 40 days shooting.
What's your favourite part of the country?
The Isle of Skye was the most beautiful and the northern part of Scotland was wonderful, especially if you could understand what the people were saying.
Is beauty important when you're shooting?
Not necessarily, but beauty is more attractive than ugliness.
Is it as interesting?
I suppose it's easier to document ugliness than to capture beauty.
Why is there an old Bentley R-Type Continental in one of the shots?
I was being driven in such a car. Stuart Smith [the art director] was doing the driving. It didn't work that well much of the time. It was beautiful but rickety.
Did you feel very lucky to get a shot of the Loch Ness Monster?
We'd planned on it.
Were you a whisky drinker before you took on this commission?
Yes, but not a knowledgeable one. Now I know a little bit more, and I have access to really good stuff.
Is it true you use a bicycle horn to attract the attention of your subjects?
I have several. I have [a walking stick with a horn and] light, too. It's manufactured by an Italian company called Danese. The item is the Elliott Walking Stick.
How important is the landscape?
People are more interesting than anything else as a subject. Dogs are very close behind; I would say that they're people with more hair. They have human qualities.
Are you a dog owner?
I had a dog for 17 years; he went to heaven a few months ago. I'm still in mourning. He was a cairn terrier, as it happens a Scottish dog.
What does Magnum Photos stand for?
Magnum has been my agency since 1953. It's a band of people who care about the human condition more than is usually the case, and by and large they're good photographers. It's a cooperative owned by the photographers, and its basic concept is that copyright belongs to the photographers.

Elliott Erwitt's Great Scottish Adventure includes one of 58 unique single-cask malt whiskies housed in a handmade flask that is concealed within the book's pages, a print from the project signed by Mr Erwitt, and a photo-archival book comprising 158 images. It is available in a limited release of 2,030.

themastersofphotography.com
magnumphotos.com

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