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The Eliot Elisofon collection





Born in a tenement on New York City’s Lower East Side in 1911, the son of Russian immigrants, Elisofon was a completely self-taught photographer. A commercial and fashion photographer in his younger years, as the thirties progressed, he began making photographs that sought to focus popular attention upon squalid urban conditions that remained neglected. By the late 1930s he was teaching in New York City at the New School for Social Research and became an active member and finally president of the famous Photo League. He also began to travel around the country as a freelance photojournalist, capturing images of the national devastation and poverty wracked by the Great Depression. By 1937 he sold his first images to Life Magazine.


In 1942, he joined the Life staff as a photographer and war correspondent, along with a number of other legendary photojournalists, including Alfred Eisenstaedt, Margaret Bourke-White, W. Eugene Smith, and Carl Mydans.

During the war, Elisofon accompanied General George S. Patton during the Tunisian campaign in North Africa and later documented the war in Scandinavia as well as the Japanese surrender of Wake Island in 1945. His war photographs were exhibited nationally during this period, including at New York City’s prestigious Museum of Modern Art.


In 1949 Elisofon arrived in Tiruvannamalai to take photos for a feature on Ramana Maharshi that was written by Winthrop Sergeant. A scan of the issue the article appeared in can be found here.


Some of the images Elisofon took in Tiruvannamalai are famous, having been reproduced many times in Ramanasramam publications. However, some of the others that didn't make the magazine are equally outstanding. I have collected all the ones I could find and assembled them in this slide show. The images are copyrighted and may not be used in any commercial activity without prior consent of the copyright holder.

Eliot Elisofon

David Godman Books


Books by David Godman on Ramana Maharshi, his devotees and his teachings

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