Artist Spotlight: Elliott Erwitt and Olivia Block

February 22, 2017

Elliot Erwitt (French, b. 1928)

Elliott Erwitt is a French photographer who immigrated to the U.S. at age 10. As a college student, Erwitt exchanged janitorial work for film classes at New School for Social Research. Right after finishing his education, he was drafted into the army. This opened up countless doors for Erwitt—he met famous photographers like Roy Striker and Edward Steichen while working as a photographer’s assistant in the army. After the war, Erwitt grew to develop his trademark humorous and ironic style. Some of his most notable photographs are humanistic, depicting compelling snapshots of urban life. Erwitt has also done extensive commercial work in advertising. His many awards and honors include the Centenary Medial and Honorary Fellowship by the Royal Photographic Society in 2002. Erwitt’s Mies van der Rohe is a gleaming cityscape shot that captures the iconic Chicago Federal Center, designed by Mies van der Rohe.

Olivia Block (American, b. 1970)

 Olivia Block is an accomplished American media artist and composer. For the past 20 years, she has combined field recordings, chamber instruments, and electronic textures to create soundscapes. Block has exhibited her sound art through multimedia installations and performances around the world. She has also found success in the music industry, with her 2013 EP Karren appearing on the “Best of 2014” lists by The Wire, Pitchfork, and Artforum. For her contribution to Landscape / Soundscape, Block focused on the “unsettling sense of distance” in Erwitt’s photo. In the artist’s words, “The looming Miew van der Rohe building and the tiny human figure remind me of the paradoxical isolation inherent in city life, where people are abundant, but social relations are often distant.” Block utilized bustling city sounds and made them feel “far away from the listener by burying them underneath atmospheres of noise.” Block took sound recordings from the very area where the photograph was taken. Her piece, therefore, works closely with Erwitt’s photograph to transport the listener into a new and isolating city scene.