I’ve always been a huge fan of the photographer Elliott Erwitt. His photography is sharp, often very funny and captures a sometimes silly, sometimes ridiculous part of our human experience.
His way of talking about photography is wonderful. He is a super pragmatic person who doesn’t go in for all fuss of talking about photography as if it’s some kind of sacred experience.
He does, though, have extraordinary photographic talent, which has been honed over a 60-year career. So I thought I’d share with you some of the many things we can learn from him. After you read this I encourage you to look up his work and investigate for yourself.
Finding a mentor
I make a point of learning from people I admire. It takes me out of my own little bubble of creative work, the hustle I do as a photographer and creative entrepreneur – and offers me interesting perspectives that are totally different to my own way of doing things.
There are always very cool and interesting ideas to be sparked, new ways to do things, new thoughts and inspirations to be gathered from some of the amazing creative talents in the world.
In this article, I’ve used some of my photos that are a little Elliott Erwitt inspired and paired them with some things you can also learn from this legendary photographer.
9Lesson 2: Photography is all about learning to see the world in new ways
“To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place… I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.” – Elliott Erwitt
I think one of the reasons Erwitt is so successful is that he is totally an observer. He watches the world from a state of complete presence. I cannot overstate the importance of becoming an observer.
You may think you are always observing the world, but I would counter that. What you likely do is see a little, but mostly you are lost in your mind, in your thoughts and ideas – usually about the past. “Why did I do that?! Why did he say that?!” Or in the future. “I have to remember to send an email about that meeting!”
We all do it! Then, with the small amount of attention we have left, we are looking at the world, but are so lost in ourselves that what we see is very limited, just tiny measures of what is actually there.
Our brain processes billions of pieces of visual information every second (crazy right?!) but in an effort to make sure we don’t get overwhelmed, we only ever see a few hundred segments.
So when we are lost in our own minds, our own thoughts, we are seeing even less.
But when you decide to stop paying attention to your never-ending rush of thoughts and ideas and to-do lists and decide to become fully present in the world, fully aware of what is happening right now – then you will be truly observing the world.
Notice the feeling of a light breeze on your skin, the harsh sunlight on your eyelids making you squint, the deep blue of the sky, the way the movement of undulating water is shimmering under the bright sun.
You may notice people laughing in a cafe, a dog barking in the distance, the people walking past you with a rhythmic thud. The rolling drone of cars passing.
This is what it is to observe the world – to step into the world of now. To step out of your mind and into the present moment.
Elliott Erwitt’s photography is such an amazing display of observing. It shows that when you are in a state of observation, particularly of human beings, you’ll find gems everywhere.