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News Release — August 29, 2000

"To Help The World to See" - An Eliot Elisofon Retrospective

A LIFE editor, Ray Mackland, in reviewing the work of the young Eliot Elisofon, began to grow tired of Elisofon's ceaseless assertiveness and self-promotion. Finally he had enough and complained to Elisofon, "I just don't understand how you can keep introducing yourself as the greatest LIFE photographer." Eliot considered the matter for a moment and then replied, "You're right. You should be doing it for me."

Elisofon never lacked for confidence, perhaps with good reason. One of America's premier photojournalists whose career spanned four important decades (1935-1973) of the twentieth century, Elisofon covered a wide range of subjects and answered what he once called "photography's greatest challengeÉto help the world to see." With his skillful eye, he created some of the most memorable images of the mid-twentieth century, now assembled in a stunning retrospective of his work.

Exhibition Content and Highlights

Based upon the Eliot Elisofon archive housed at the Ransom Center, this is the first major retrospective exhibition of the career of one of America's most important photojournalists. The exhibition will include images from:

  • The commercial and documentary photography of Elisofon's early years.
  • Elisofon's experience accompanying General George S. Patton during the U.S. World War II campaign through North Africa, including Casablanca, Tunisia, and Cape Bon.
  • A World War II airplane crash that Elisofon survived and documented.
  • Individual photographs from a number of Elisofon's major stories for LIFE magazine.
  • Photo essays on locations from Africa, the Orient, Southeast Asia, and throughout the world.
  • Elisofon's innovative work as a color consultant for various films and documentaries, including John Huston's motion picture, Moulin Rouge (1952).

Eliot Elisofon: A Short Bio

Born in a tenement on New York City's Lower East Side in 1911, the son of Russian immigrants, Elisofon was a completely self-taught photographer. A commercial and fashion photographer in his younger years, as the thirties progressed, he began making photographs that sought to focus popular attention upon squalid urban conditions that remained neglected. By the late 1930s he was teaching in New York City at the New School for Social Research and became an active member and finally president of the famous Photo League. He also began to travel around the country as a freelance photojournalist, capturing images of the national devastation and poverty wracked by the Great Depression. By 1937 he sold his first images to LIFE Magazine.

In 1942, he joined the LIFE staff as a photographer and war correspondent, along with a number of other legendary photojournalists, including Alfred Eisenstaedt, Margaret Bourke-White, W. Eugene Smith, and Carl Mydans. During the war, Elisofon accompanied General George S. Patton during the Tunisian campaign in North Africa and later documented the war in Scandinavia as well as the Japanese surrender of Wake Island in 1945. His war photographs were exhibited nationally during this period, including at New York City's prestigious Museum of Modern Art.

Elisofon's later work included a series of photographic surveys through virtually every corner of the globe, from the Andes to the South Pacific, Africa, and Japan. He also gained a reputation as an accomplished technician and lighting designer, particularly through his groundbreaking innovations in color photography. Never satisfied with one career, he became both an accomplished painter and an active scholar and collector of African and Asian tribal art. In addition, his passion for food and wine led him to become the first photographer to author a cookbook.

Elisofon remained on LIFE's full-time staff until 1964, when he returned to freelance photography and began producing independent film projects. Throughout his career, he authored books on a variety of subjects, including African and Asian art and sculpture, the Nile, Java, and Hollywood homes. When Elisofon passed away in 1973, at the age of sixty-two and less than a year after LIFE itself had folded, he left behind an impressive body of work and legacy as one of the major American photojournalists of the mid-twentieth century.

Eliot Elisofon Archive at the Ransom Center

Eliot Elisofon's two daughters, Elin and Jill, donated his archive to the Ransom Center in 1992. The archive comprises all aspects of Eliot Elisofon's career, documented by photographs, transparencies, slides, negatives, film, research material, notes, photo captions, logbooks, correspondence, agreements and other documents, drafts, proofs, tearsheets, clippings, scrapbooks, catalogs, sketch books, and artifacts, all dating from 1930 to 1988. The archive spans 60.5 linear feet, comprised of 154 boxes.

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