Some great photographers are known for their beautiful, haunting and often formally posed portraits-- Yousuf Karsh, Richard Avedon and Robert Mapplethorpe come to mind. Elliott Erwitt, however, often does something else. His photographs invite the viewer to draw his or her own conclusion about the subject; especially is that true in SEQUENTIALLY YOURS, where Mr. Erwitt shoots from two to several frames in sequence. Now you see them; sometimers you don't.
Some of the shots are of famous people. There is a whole series--24 shots-- of the actors, director, crew et al of the movie "The Misfits," that as I recall, was the last film that Marily Monroe, Montgomery Clift and Clark Gable made, culminating with the final photograph that I conveted several years ago in a fine photo gallery in the French Quarter in New Orleans but could not afford. Mr. Erwitt also includes a sequence of the famous shots of Ms. Monroe with her white dress blowing from "The Seven Year Itch." Che Guevara, Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazer, Nikita Krushchev and Richard Nixon and Cartier-Bresson are the other well-known individuals in the book.
Total strangers, however, are just as captivating. Many of them will make your smile. Others are poignant. I was particularly moved by the sequence (beginning on page 175) of the woman visiting, along with her dog, a cemetery in Saint-Tropez, France. She gently places flowers on a gravestone of a husband, a parent-- God forbid a child-- while the dog looks on. In the final shot she is gone but the dog remains to roll over and have a bit of fun-- whatever the word is in dogspeak-- after such a serious event.
Is the man trying to pick up the young woman in the beach sequence in Brazil (pp. 18-21) or do they already know each other? We will never know but that makes the sequence all the more intriguing. And wouldn't you like to know what the old Parisian gentleman with the walking cane (pp. 130-135) says to the dog before he walks on? Or what these men are saying in the series (pp. 168-174: Piazza del Duomo, Milan, Italy, 2002)? Is it a protest of some sort?
Some of the shots obviously were staged. The photo of the nude pregnant woman followed by the same nude woman with her baby lying in front of her is a good example. On the other hand, Mr. Erwitt has worked his magic in most of the shots with his subjects being unawares. He was often at the right place at the right time. But to quote Pascal, chance favors the prepared mind. In his very fine forward, Marshall Brickman says something similar: "But luck favors the prepared." Further commenting on the dog pictures of which there are so many in the book, Mr. Brickman says that "I'll bet a dollar that in many of the dog pictures, it was the dog, not the photographer, who had the idea." Certainly the objects he lists that can be found in Mr. Erwitt's apartment and work shop, three of which are a wooden hand-model with articulating fingers, "the middle finger raised in classic vulgar salute," a metal wind-up chicken and a strap-on pig-nose frm a party store are an indication that we are dealing with someone with a wonderful sense of humor, whom you can tip your hat to!
A fascinating, terrific book to be perused again and again.