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Elliott Erwitt's Take on the Magic of Photography

The best photographs give us a way to connect with the world: they shatter the mundane, prompt self reflection and question reality. But what about, as Ansel Adams calls it, the “twelve inches behind the camera”?

Read next: An Interview with Elliott Erwitt

TIME takes you behind the lens with First Take, a new ongoing video series about the art and craft of photography. At a time when photo sharing is the new status update, we appreciate guides such as Elliott Erwitt, Donna Ferrato and Phillip Toledano who continue to help redefine the medium. Each of them share one trait: an obsession with finding beauty in the untidiness of life.

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In Erwitt's own words, reflections on his favorite photographs: "This picture here of two kids with masks was taken in Paris in 1949. I was in the army at that time and and I was on furlough in Paris. Why is it a meaningful picture to me? It's meaningful because I think it’s a good picture — no particular story in it. It’s a snapshot. In fact, most of my good pictures are snaps."Elliott Erwitt—Magnum
In Erwitt's own words, reflections on his favorite photographs: "This picture here of two kids with masks was taken in P
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Elliott Erwitt—Magnum
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This week, the series launches with the legendary Magnum photographer Elliott Erwitt, who offers a glimpse into his quest to make art through documentary photography. A master of Henri Cartier-Bresson’s “decisive moment,” Erwitt says all photographers strive for that special moment that “transcends the subject and place, and can be looked at for years to come.

Here’s his take.

Elliott Erwitt is a Magnum photographer based in New York.

First Take is an ongoing video series curated by TIME’s photography editors.

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