Book Review: Personal Best by Elliott Erwitt

Five star pictures in a one star frame

How unfortunate that these world-class photos are presented in totally the wrong editorial format and more so because the solution would have been simple: a landscape shaped book.

The 448 pages are printed on a reasonable matt art paper and this makes it a quite chunky book so that it cannot be opened without the pages curving into the gutter. The problems start with so many photos a spread wide with any centrally framed detail merging into the spine and basically destroying the photo. A landscape shaped page would avoid all the spread photos from having their centers ruined and allow for a margin round each as well.

Another problem is that most of the photos bleed off the page, which eliminates page numbers. To get round this, every so often, a photo has generous margins allowing for some numbers. The back of the book has nine pages of thumbnails and page numbers for every page even though throughout the bleed pages there are no numbers.

As to the photos, there are many classics here that are frequently shown whenever Erwitt is mentioned in print. The wonderful one of a mother looking lovingly at her baby on a bed (1953) that was in the Family of Man exhibition, the landscape shot of the a car racing a steam train in Wyoming 1954, two New York dogs, one huge and the other tiny and their owner's legs from 1974. There are several fun shots like the art class with the painters in the nude and the model fully clothed. There is another editorial problem here because as far as I can see the 343 photos are shown in no order. Surely, a book like this would do them in date order or themes: dogs (one of Erwitt's favorites) countries and cities; humor; children; New York; portraits etcetera.

The publishers have several Erwitt books in print and it looks like they all have the same editorial problems I've mentioned. This is so unfortunate because his work is part of the history of photography over several decades and their creativity would really have come across if more thought had been given to their presentation.

Personal Best is available at Amazon (US | CA | UK | DE | FR | IT | ES | JP | CN) and Book Depository

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Title spread.

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Most photos have a center of interest, which in this book, unfortunately, just disappears into the gutter.

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There's a tram in there somewhere. New Orleans, 1950.

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Erwitt's favorite subject.

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The back of the book has nine pages of thumbnails for the captions: place and date.

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A classic ruined by the gutter. The photo was used in the Family of Man exhibition.

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The gutter makes this wonderful photo into a one-legged owner.

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Left: Miami Beach, 1962. Right: Brighton England, 1970.

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Erwitt at his fun best.

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