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Erich Salomon
The King of the Indiscreet, 1928-1938
Naïs Elfassi, January 12, 2009
Erich Salomon/Dr. Erich Salomon_Mrs. Green, 1930
Erich Salomon/Dr. Erich Salomon_Mrs. Green, 1930
 
Salomon’s appearance and polished manners enabled this cultivated man to get past barriers – guards often took him for a man of state, and so indeed did men of state. All of which prompted this amused remark from Otto Braun (Minister President of the Free State of Prussia): “Nowadays, one can conduct politics without politicians, but not without Doctor Salomon.” His success enabled him to provide newspapers with portraits of Aristide Briand, Austen Chamberlain and Gustav Stresemann (respectively the French, British and German foreign ministers at the end of the 1920s) or of Benito Mussolini in mid-discussion, sitting at a table with a cigar in his hand. In contrast to stiff official images (in which the subject is “fully aware of his official significance”), his spontaneous photographs show individuals absorbed in their work, or in the process of taking decision that will affect the affairs of the world.

Erich Salomon/Erich Salomon (1886 – 1944) Jurastudium in München und Berlin, von 1929
Erich Salomon/Erich Salomon (1886 – 1944) Jurastudium in München und Berlin, von 1929
 
Salomon was also good at cultivating his own reputation. He insisted that his signature (“Doctor Erich Salomon”) should appear on every reproduction. A number of articles and interviews related the adventures and secrets of the “formidable doctor.” The press nicknamed him the “master of the hidden camera” and the “Houdini of photography.” But in fact Salomon’s legend also served as a guarantee for his clientele: it ensured the press that it would be provided with sensational images, and his subjects (whom he always treated respectfully) that the images published of them would be sincere but also well-disposed.

Erich Salomon/Erich Salomon_Krantz Prozess
Erich Salomon/Erich Salomon_Krantz Prozess
 
However, it would be anachronistic to reduce Salomon’s career to his media exploits. He was no doubt aware that he was immortalizing events as and when they occurred, and thus producing historic documents. But his group and individual portraits can be viewed as studies of different milieus, forming an inventory of psychological and behavioural tendencies. In this sense, his approach belongs to the German tradition of encyclopaedic investigation (one thinks, naturally, of August Sander’s Menschen des 20. Jahrhunderts [Men of the 20th Century]).

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