Eliot Elisofon was once called the ‘real ‘Most Interesting Man in the World’ by Smithsonian magazine. As a photojournalist, Life magazine staffer (1942-1964), teacher, writer, avid traveler, author, and more, Elisofon truly did it all. The iconic photographer’s portfolio of paintings is perhaps lesser known but not to be overlooked.
Elisofon was a founding member of the Photo League and captured images during World War II. He traveled extensively through Africa and left over 80,000 photos to the Smithsonian. He is praised for his unbiased portrayal of African culture, at a time when many photographers leaned into harmful stereotypes and misrepresented the country. Elisofon was unlike many of his contemporaries. Once, after surviving a plane crash, Elisofon got up from the rubble and began photographing the scene. The photographer's vitality and passion for his craft are evident in his work.
The artist said “art, to be true art, must grow out of human beings and it must help human beings live a better and fuller life. It must extend the field of feeling and vision we are born with.”
Somehow, Elisofon found time for numerous visits to Vinalhaven, Maine. Each summer, the family drove up from Boston to stay at their 1843 Greek Revival saltwater farmhouse on Crockett Cove. The artist spent many days painting watercolors of the waters, fields and flourishing vegetable and flower gardens around his home.
His daughter Elin Elisofon said that “He traveled all over the world, but was happiest here [Maine] painting watercolors, cooking, sailing, planting and growing trees, flowers and vegetables....Knowing how hard the families who came before us worked to sustain themselves, and care for their home, is at the heart of my love for this place and my sense of responsibility for its future.”
Elisofon taught at the Institute of American Artists School, the New School, the Museum of Modern Art, and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Yale University, Syracuse University, Sarah Lawrence College and more. Many of Elisofon's images are owned by Getty Images. His papers and materials can be found at the University of Texas at Austin. Many of his watercolor pieces are available at the Hopkins Wharf Gallery in North Haven, Maine.