Erich Salomon (1886-1944) was 42 when he tried his luck as as a professional photographer. Armed with his Ermanox and Leica cameras, Salomon’s moneyed background and ability to take great shots of the rich, notorious and connected surreptitiously and in poor light earned him the nickname ‘The King of the Indiscreet’. In 1931, Salomon published Berühmte Zeitgenossen in unbewachte Augenblicken (Famous Contemporaries in Unguarded Moments).
The phrase “candid camera” was first coined in 1929 to describe Salomon’s idiosyncratic technique of capturing the world’s most powerful political and industrial leaders revealing themselves as ordinary human beings: talking, yawning, and joking. With his 35mm Ermanox camera concealed (sometimes in a hat or suitcase) and his unobtrusive appearance, Salomon was able to cut through the slick facade conveyed by official state portraits, both deflating and humanizing the politicians he photographed. This picture was taken in the Reichskanzlei in Berlin.
– The Met
While working closely with photographers on a project in the Publicity Department of publishing house Ullstein, which printed the illustrated weekly Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung among others, Salomon decided it would be more profitable to become a photographer.
In the late 1920s Salomon taught himself to photograph and sold the pictures he took of his family trips to pay for it. During this time he started documenting big trials by photographing through a hole he made in his hat. His career as a photographer officially began when some of these photographs were published in Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung. In 1929 Salomon secretly (and illegally) photographed inside the British Supreme Court; the images caused a stir when they were published six years later. Over the course of his career, Salomon continued to photograph scenes, people, and locations, often of political significance, at meaningful and unguarded moments…
In 1933 the political situation changed dramatically in Germany when NSDAP became part of the government. During the Salomons’ visit to The Hague that year, where they stayed with the parents of Salomon’s wife, they decided not to return to Berlin. Their oldest son Otto Erich (who later changed his name to Peter Hunter) finished his study in law and moved to London in 1934. After two years of hiding in the Netherlands, Salomon and his family were betrayed in 1944. A few months later he was deported to Westerbork, where he was temporarily united with his wife and youngest son Dirk. On July 7, 1944 they died in Auschwitz…
“President Hoover might never have allowed Dr. Erich “Candid Camera” Salomon in the White House if Premier Laval of France had not politely insisted. Like Benito Mussolini, Ramsay MacDonald, and Chancellor Brüning, Pierre Laval has become convinced that Dr. Salomon´s spontaneous snapshots are historic documents to be preserved for posterity…”
– Time, November 1931
For more see the Salomon archive at the Berlinische Galerie, Jeu De Paume.
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