A drastic change of image: Magnum photographer Elliott Erwitt has crafted a glorious alter ego

Who exactly is the self-regarding photographer André S. Solidor? Eccentric self portraits reveal him wearing a beret and sunglasses, with a naked lady standing behind him like a lemon, as well as cycling with a baguette tied to the back of his children's bicycle, complete with stabilisers.

He is, as his devotees will know, the famous Magnum photographer Elliott Erwitt, now in his 80s, who is far better known for his documentary photographs of ironic or absurd situations – as well as his portraits of Hollywood film stars in the 1950s and his photo journalism, in which he captured major historic events.

A favourite subject is dogs. He's published many photographic books, with titles ranging from Son of Bitch (1974), Dog Dogs (1998), Woof (2005) and Elliott Erwitt's Dogs (2008).

In a dynamic departure from his usual work, Erwitt has become the Sacha Baron Cohen of the photographic world. He is masquerading as a pompous French photographer, who takes pretentious arty images.

"His initials spell Ass, which is more or less how I consider him," says Erwitt. "He is a contemporary artist, from one of the French colonies in the Caribbean, I forget which one."

As part of a campaign against pretension of all kinds, Erwitt has invented the persona of Solidor to "satirise the kooky excesses of contemporary photography" and "the art world". "I've always been a little suspicious of the art world anyway. I always thought that a lot of the art is simply what you can get away with."

Images include ridiculous smoking fish heads, while gratuitous nudity becomes the norm, with pictures such as Metaphysical Reflection showing a naked woman reflected in a pool of azure water. "Well, that sums up Solidor," says Erwitt. Homage to Cindy Sherman, who typically photographs herself in a variety of costumes, reveals a man with a paper bag on his head; the Homage to Helmut Newton; Ophelia, inspired by Shakespeare's Hamlet depicts a naked mannequin with huge breasts, split in half, floating in the river. "It's good clean fun. That's all. It doesn't hurt anybody," he says.

Erwitt hired outfits from a theatrical costume house in New York for the shoots. He also, as Solidor, dressed up in native costume as a Spanish matador, an Italian priest and a British gentleman out shooting. "I enjoyed dressing up to personify Solidor. It's just a feeling. The attitude, the way he is dressed, the way he presents himself as a pompous, pretentious, silly person." It's not the first time Erwitt has used a pseudo name – he would adopt different titles when he was on jobs he didn't want to be associated with. "I had the name Snaps Picazo when I did restaurant and travel assignments for magazines."

The exhibition, based on his latest book, The Art of Andre S. Solidor (2009), opens this month in London and will be hosted by the designer Paul Smith. It's the first time these pictures have been shown in the UK. A second show, Sequentially Yours Photo Sequences or Indecisive Moments, opens next week at London's Atlas Gallery.

The popular photographic comic strips of the latter exhibition unfold playfully like film stills, which he took in his spare time. "I generally carry my own personal camera when I work on assignments and take pictures as I see them."

Sequences include Cannes, France, 1975, which shows two people sitting in a row of deck chairs – and then the same chairs empty and flapping in the wind. St Tropez, France, 1979 consists of three frames showing a woman putting flowers at a grave, with a dog, who in the final sequence rolls on his back playfully.

The three frames of Mexico, 1973 depict a man sitting on the beach with a woman lying on the sand – until they lie together, with his head on her back. Marilyn Monroe is shown on the set of Some Like It Hot, in a sequence of six photographs showing her dress lifting up in the wind.

Born to Russian parents in Paris in 1928, Erwitt spent his childhood in Milan before moving to America. As a teenager in Los Angeles, he started taking photographs and worked in a commercial darkroom. "I remember one of my earliest published photographs I took was in 1946 of a Chihuahua, next to a lady's shoes," he says.

In 1948 he moved to New York where he took film classes. Then he was drafted in to the US Army for military service in 1951, where he undertook photographic duties while stationed in New Jersey, France and Germany.

He joined Magnum in 1953 at the invitation of Robert Capa. But one of his greatest mentors was Gjon Mili, a Life magazine photographer. "He isn't well-known but he is a very important photographer, who developed the strobe light. I shared a studio with him and he was very important in my photographic life. I learned a lot from him: discipline, photography, the technical aspect – everything."

Erwitt has also made films and documentaries, including Arthur Penn: the Director in 1970 and the prize-winning Glassmakers of Herat in 1977, as well as numerous comedy films in the 1980s.

He currently lives in New York and has a Cairn Terrier called Sammy. "He is identical to Toto from The Wizard of Oz," says Erwitt. "He is quite old and blind and deaf – but he still has some character left."

What attracts him to taking pictures of dogs? "They are everywhere, they are sympathetic and they don't ask for prints. I like them. They are a good subject. They are rather universal and the same the world over."

Next he has a major retrospective at New York's International Center of Photography (ICP) in May. "I'm a professional photographer and then I do photography as a hobby on the side. The two things are quite different. Solidor and these sequences are playful – part of what I do as a hobby."

The Art of André S Solidor AKA Elliott Erwitt, Paul Smith, London W1 (0207 493 4565) 24 February to 26 March. Sequentially Yours, Atlas Gallery, London W1 (020 7224 4192) 16 February to 19 March. Elliott Erwitt will be in conversation at the Cochrane Theatre, London WC1 (020 7269 1606) 21 February

Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
Arts and Entertainment
Iain reacts to his GBBO disaster

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash

Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

Arts and Entertainment
Suha Arraf’s film ‘Villa Touma’ (left) is set in Ramallah and all the actresses are Palestinian

Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'

Arts and Entertainment
Steve Carell in the poster for new film 'Foxcatcher'
filmExclusive: First look at comic actor in first major serious role
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Kingston Road in Stockton is being filmed for the second series of Benefits Street
arts + entsFilming for Channel 4 has begun despite local complaints
Arts and Entertainment
Led Zeppelin

Arts and Entertainment
Radio presenter Scott Mills will be hitting the Strictly Come Dancing ballroom
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

    ... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
    Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

    Europe's biggest steampunk convention

    Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

    The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
    She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

    Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

    The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
    American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

    Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

    James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
    Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

    Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

    Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

    Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

    Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
    The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

    The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

    If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution