Friday, September 25, 2015

Erich Salomon’s Candid Camera

Photographing People

Erich Salomon: The NYRB writes of one of his most well-known photos: “French Prime Minister Aristide Briand pointing at the photographer, during the negotiations of the Seven-Power Conference, Paris, July 19, 1931.”
Photo Credit: Erich Salomon; Getty Images
Source: NYRB

An article, by Christopher Benfey, in The New York Review of Books gives a revealing portrait of Erich Salomon, the pioneer of concealed camera photography.

In “The Unguarded Moment” (September 9, 2015) Benfey writes about his father, who lived next door to the famous photographer, and whose families had ties beyond those of photographs and photography:
My father turns ninety this fall, on Halloween, and we will celebrate accordingly. The American Chemical Society, in a special symposium, will honor him in turn for his contributions to the history of organic chemistry, his work on science in early Japan and China, and his innovative spiral-shaped periodic table. Meanwhile, photographs of another birthday party, which my father attended when he was four years old, have recently been brought to our attention. They were taken in 1929, by the Berlin photographer and photojournalist Erich Salomon (1886-1944), at his home at number 11 Hölderlinstrasse, in Berlin. My father, according to his birth certificate, lived next door at number 10.
The photographs of my father, along with other children at the party—including Salomon’s younger son, Dirk, the shyly smiling birthday boy—were first shown in public two years later at yet another birthday celebration, Salomon’s forty-fifth, held at the posh Hotel Kaiserhof in 1931, when Salomon was at the height of his fame. There, before an audience of four hundred distinguished Berliners, Salomon presented a slideshow that began with his celebrated portraits of “famous contemporaries in unguarded moments” (Berühmte Zeitgenossen in unbewachten Augenblicken, the title of his 1931 book of photographs of world leaders, movie stars, and other celebrities), including shots of many people in the audience. The slideshow ended with images of children, one of whom is identified, in Salomon’s lecture notes, as “Teddy Benfey.”
Such in a nutshell explains the difference between biography, historical memoir and personal anecdotes. One has some personal connection attached to the story, the memory of it passed down from generation to generation. I, too, was interested in Erich Salomon the photographer, and have previously written a post a few years ago about him [“Erich Salomon: Discreet Photographer Of The Political Class”; June 22, 2012].

A thought to consider. What would Freud (a contemporary of Salomon) say then about such unguarded moments and what they reveal about the unconscious mind? about the idiosyncratic nature of the individuals who were the subjects of his photos. No doubt, much, since it is easy to interpret (too) much from a single photo or action; this does not necessarily mean that such an interpretation has any validity.

It would seem that Salomon’s photos, with their intended purpose to capture candor, do tell a particular story about an event anchored in time and a place. Although I have no personal connection to him or his family, Erich Salomon’s photographs convey a sense of intimacy—as one can expect with any work of art. This I can say with a high level of certainty and a high degree of candor.

For more, go to [NYRB]

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