Elliot Erwitt at the Ransom

The Harry Ransom Center on the UT Campus is currently exhibiting a collection of Elliot Erwitt's prints. I had some time to stop by this afternoon. What a treat! I own a couple of his books and having now seen these silver gelatin prints, the pages of the books don't do his work justice. My stay at the museum was limited to about an hour. That wasn't enough time. Those beautifully printed images made me pause and look deeply. I'll be visiting again before the exhibit concludes at the end of the year.

Mr. Erwitt has a unique way of looking at the world. A lot of his images reveal his sense of humor. His keen eye catches interesting bits of detail in the mundane. One can learn a great deal about composition and timing from studying his images. In much of his work Erwitt manages to impose a bit of himself - commenting on a person, thing, or situation without saying a word. There was a quote displayed among Erwitt's famous collection of dog photos that caught my attention and appropriately sums up his approach to the subject. A.D. Coleman wrote, "Erwitt sees dogs - and thus, inferentially, people - as sad and funny creatures, at the mercy of forces beyond their control, subject to indignities inflicted more inadvertently than deliberately by a power structure which dwarfs them, yet able to survive, nourishing their bodies and spirits, giving and receiving."

Inspiration: The Salt of the Earth

I got to see an amazing film last weekend. "The Salt of the Earth" is a documentary about the life and work of Sebastiao Salgado. If you don't know who he is, stop reading now and get to the Google. Come back in a few hours after you've lost yourself in his images. That's more important than my ramblings. Are you back? OK, Salgado is a documentary photographer who has captured images around the world in the midst of the worst of suffering. His images have given a voice to those whose lives are helplessly trapped in horrific conditions - disease, famine, drought, genocide.

It's one thing to document with photography. With Salgado's images, there's more to it. The images are powerful and captivating but most importantly they make you care. His photos never interfere with seeing humanity - real, beautiful people in terrible circumstances. You can tell he got close to these people. You can tell he loves these people. His photographs from his time in Rwanda were most moving to me. Damn. No words. 

Salgado's experience in Rwanda took a heavy toll on his soul and returned feeling ill emotionally. Losing hope for humanity, it was his family's drought stricken land in Brazil that brought him back to a renewed sense of purpose and hope. In a shared vision with his wife, the land was slowly brought back from the dead and lush forest land returned. The idea that hope and hard work could bring about a reversal of an ecological disaster resulted in Salgado's "Genesis" project - a decade of ecologically focused documentary photography.

A photograph can't change the world. It can show people something though - perhaps something terrible that needs to be changed or maybe something beautiful that needs to be preserved. Maybe it stirs a sense of hope and then, just maybe, the world can be changed.