The 73-year-old photographer is described in Snaps' introduction as a "rare talent" by his longtime friend, journalist Murray Sayle, yet the accomplished image-maker is more modest, downplaying his gift as a "serious hobby." The son of a well-to-do Russian aristocrat and a poor Jewish socialist, Erwitt displays the ease of a man who is comfortable in both worlds. Whether shooting Marilyn Monroe on the set of The Misfits or taking an unsettling portrait of a young black boy with a wide, mischievous grin pointing a toy gun at his head, Erwitt builds on that "rare talent" with a heavy dose of luck at capturing seemingly impossible moments. His infamous "Kitchen Debate" photos, for example, caught on record a heated finger-pointing session between Richard Nixon and Nikita Khrushchev in front of a Westinghouse refrigerator. Such unusual situations and playful juxtapositions are common in Erwitt's work: a crane standing in the same position as a faucet, a group of Hungarian schoolgirls clustered like a nearby gaggle of geese.
The culmination of more than 50 years of work, Snaps reveals Erwitt as both photojournalist and social observer. Organized into nine sections with single words as chapter titles -- Read, Rest, Touch, Stand -- and grouped by Erwitt to construct visual or verbal puns, the book includes historically famous shots as well as little-known photos previously tucked away in the artist's files. Sayle describes him as "the most amusable man -- he can see a joke, in words or images, better than anyone." It is that irrepressible humor and childlike curiosity that should make Elliott Erwitt more of a household name.