"Ah, there he is, the king of the indiscreet!" exclaimed Aristide Briand as he pointed to Erich Salomon in the salons of the Quai d'Orsay, where he had been caught by surprise. The words would become famous, especially since the French Foreign Minister spoke them just as Salomon had pressed his shutter release. It was August 1931, and for three years now the German photographer had been finding his way into conferences and other international meetings, bringing back surprising photographs of the most prominent political figures. Paradoxically, however, if there was one word that described Salomon's practice it was discretion.
Erich Salomon: Aristide Briand montre du doigt Erich Salomon et s’écrie : "Ah ! le voilà ! le roi des indiscrets !".
Paris, quai d’Orsay, août 1931.
Archives Erich Salomon / Berlinische Galerie
Landesmuseum für Moderne Kunst, Fotografie und Architektur,
© Bildarchiv Preußisher Kulturbesitz
Photo courtesy of Jeu de Paume
The king of the indiscreet
Born into a rich Berlin banking family, Erich Salomon studied zoology and architecture and went on to gain a doctorate in law. When the Salomons were ruined by the rampant inflation of the postwar years, he was forced to find work. In 1925, the advertising department at Ullstein Verlag took him on. He began working with photography, and developed special methods for discreetly taking photographs in the law courts. His career as a photojournalist took off in 1928, when his report on the much discussed Krantz trial appeared in the Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung. Salomon specialized in covering major international conferences and political or social events. He took numerous portraits of figures from the worlds of politics, finance and industry, but also from the press, the sciences and the arts.
Erich Salomon: Réunion de stars du cinéma
À gauche de la console : Carmen Del Rio et Ernst Lubitsch
à droite : Maurice Chevalier, Yvonne Vallée [sa femme],
Paul Kohner [producteur], Vilma Banky et Carl Laemmle. Hollywood, 1930.
Archives Erich Salomon / Berlinische Galerie, Landesmuseum für Moderne Kunst, Fotografie und Architektur, © Bildarchiv Preußisher Kulturbesitz
Photo courtesy of Jeu de Paume
Famous contemporaries in unguarded moments
Erich Salomon's group and individual portraits can be viewed as studies of different milieus, forming an inventory of the psychological and behavioural tendencies of people, captured unawares. In this sense, his approach belongs to the German tradition of encyclopaedic investigation. In 1931, Salomon published Famous Contemporaries in Unguarded Moments, by Engelhorn Verlag, Stuttgart, presenting himself as a hunter tracking down the true face of personalities, and detailing the exact circumstances in which the photographs were taken.
With this project, the Jeu de Paume is inaugurating a cycle of three exhibitions at the Hôtel de Sully on the subject of European photography between the wars. The series covers three main areas: German photojournalism, as represented by Erich Salomon, avant-garde photography in Paris from 1920 to 1940, in the Christian Bouqueret collection, and, finally, war photography, through the work of Agustí Centelles during the Spanish Civil War.
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