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Elliot Erwitt was just 22 years old when he was commissioned to shoot Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania by the legendary Roy Stryker in 1950. Stryker had won fame and lasting respect for his work with the Farm Security Administration in the 1930s, commissioning photographers such as Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans to shoot America’s rural heartland at the height of the Depression; by 1950 he was working with a new organisation, the Pittsburgh Photographic Library, charged with shooting the formerly industrial, notoriously polluted city as it transformed into a modern metropolis.
Stryker had met Erwitt when the youngster was still studying in New York, and had commissioned him to work on a Standard Oil project alongside photographers such as Berenice Abbott, Gordon Parks and Russell Lee. The young image-maker must have impressed him because, when invited to document Pittsburgh by the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, Stryker commissioned Erwitt and – unusually for him – gave him free reign to shoot what he liked. Erwitt shot on the project for a year, until he was drafted into the Army Signal Corps in Germany.
Also unusual for Stryker was the fact that he filed away the discarded negatives for this project in their entirety, rather than punching holes in them, rendering them unusable. A new book, Pittsburgh: 1950 by Elliot Erwitt is a new edit of this long-overlooked portfolio of work, which draws on both the images Stryker edited, and the ones he ‘killed’ back in the day.
Pittsburgh: 1950 by Elliot Erwitt is published by GOST Books, priced £45. www.gostbooks.com

Downtown hat shop window, Pittsburgh September 1950 © Elliott Erwitt / Magnum Photos Courtesy: Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh
Crowd at Armistice Day Parade, Pittsburgh, November 1950 © Elliott Erwitt / Magnum Photos Courtesy: Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh
Untitled Pittsburgh 1950 © Elliott Erwitt / Magnum Photos Courtesy: Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh
Crowd at Armistice Day Parade, Pittsburgh, November 1950 © Elliott Erwitt / Magnum Photos Courtesy: Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh
Boundary Street, Pittsburgh 1950 © Elliott Erwitt Courtesy: Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh
Waiting for a streetcar downtown Pittsburgh 1950 © Elliott Erwitt / Magnum Photos Courtesy: Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh
Workman on wrecking project at The Point Pittsburgh 1950 © Elliott Erwitt / Magnum Photos Courtesy: Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh
Diane Smyth

Diane Smyth is a freelance journalist who contributes to publications such as The Guardian, The Observer, The FT Weekend Magazine, Creative Review, The Calvert Journal, Aperture, FOAM, IMA, Aesthetica and Apollo Magazine. Prior to going freelance, she wrote and edited at BJP for 15 years. She has also curated exhibitions for institutions such as The Photographers Gallery and Lianzhou Foto Festival. You can follow her on instagram @dismy

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