Elliott Erwit
A retrospective (and hefty new book called Snaps) at Photographic Center Northwest, 900 12th Ave, 720-7222. Exhibit shows through Dec 21.

I'm attracted to the humor in your photographs, the deliberate contrasts. What are you looking for? "I do not wake up in the morning and decide to be humorous. I think some are humorous, some not. It's just what you react to. I just take pictures and then I look at them afterward--sometimes it's not for years afterward until I look at my contacts. First, I see if it's a good picture as a picture, second, I see if it has some kind of content that is of use, third, if I'm sympathetic to it, and fourth, if it's not too difficult to print."

Why wait years? Is it the test of time? "It's not really a test of time, just a matter of getting around to it."

So I'm ascribing very lofty sentiments to your work that really are just matters of practicality. "I don't know about loft [laughs]. It's hard to say what attracts you to a picture, not just because it's a long time ago, but because you see something and it's not an intellectual process, it's a reaction. A kind of instinct, let's call it. You take the picture and you have no idea whether you've gotten it or not."

So you're not into that intellectualizing crap--you're just visual. "I can't bear intellect and photography, figuring out what your result is going to be before you do it. That's okay for my commercial work; it's essential. That's what makes it so easy and pleasant--it's a logical process. But taking real pictures is not a logical process. Photographers as a rule are a deadly serious group of people, and that's unfortunate. I think it's because photography is essentially so simple that you have to invest it with some kind of stuff to justify it. Whereas--why bother? If your stuff is good and gives other people pleasure, why pontificate?"

What about conceptual photography? The kind that sets up the conundrum of reality versus staged events? "I'm against that. Conceptual photography for me is caca."

Interview by Emily Hall