The 40th anniversary of the Russian revolution
Born in Paris to Russian parents, and educated in America, Elliott Erwitt took up photography before being drafted into the US Army in 1950. He made his name with photo-essays on barracks life in France then joined Magnum and travelled the world, capturing famous faces and places and producing quirky studies of dogs.
In 1957, Erwitt was covering the 40th anniversary of the Russian revolution for the American magazine Holiday. It was when the first Sputnik was launched; his photographs of a lecture at Moscow’s planetarium appeared on the cover of the New York Times magazine. Up to that point, no western journalist had managed to get pictures of the October anniversary parade (no foreigners were allowed to take part in the parade) but Erwitt tagged along with a Soviet TV crew and managed to pass five security lines, setting up his camera right by Lenin’s mausoleum: “Although I was questioned by a guard, I was able to convince them that I belonged to the parade. I shot three or four quick rolls and then raced to my hotel room a few blocks away, where I processed them in the bath.”
Above was his picture of the Red Army’s new intercontinental ballistic missiles. He went to Moscow with the intention to cover the 7th November parade and prepared an instant developing kit for it. He raced back to the Metropol Hotel where he was staying, sent a telex to New York saying he had something special, developed the film in his room, and caught a plane to Helsinki. There, Time magazine arranged a special lab for him, from where the pictures were developed and distributed all over the world. Several magazines displayed those pictures on their cover.