In 1950, 22-year-old Elliott Erwitt was commissioned by the legendary Roy Stryker to document Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, as it emerged from a notoriously polluted industrial city into a cleaner, more modern metropolis. Shooting for Stryker’s newly organised Pittsburgh Photographic Library, Erwitt’s photographs captured the humanity and spirit of the people of the city against the angular industrial architecture.
Drafted into the army in Germany just four months after arriving in Pittsburgh, Erwitt was forced to abandon the project, leaving his negatives behind. For decades, the negatives were held at the Pennsylvania Department of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, and as a result, a majority of the photographs have neither been published nor exhibited before.
When Erwitt began to photograph Pittsburgh, it was heavily associated with the Steel Industry and was very much a city in flux. Rapid immigration in the first half of the 20th century from Europe and African Americans from the rural south helped to fuel Pittsburgh’s industry. During World War II, demand for steel resulted in mills operating 24 hours a day for the war effort, resulting in the highest levels of air pollution known by the city. Erwitt captured the dirt and the grit of the old city, the new buildings of the city’s rebirth, and most importantly, the individuality of the residents of Pittsburgh, creating a unique document of the city.
Now you enjoy viewing some highlights from the series in a new book entitled Pittsburgh: 1950 by Elliott Erwitt. It's a complete and un-edited look at his eye during his formative years. Subjects and themes central to Erwitt's work made over the following seven decades are certainly evident in these early photographs. Find out more at gostbooks.com.
Main image: Crowd at Armistice Day Parade, Pittsburgh, November 1950 © Elliott Erwitt / Magnum Photos Courtesy: Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh