Erich Salomon became a renowned photojournalist by capturing the spontaneity of politicians, artists and academics through candid photos. His personal connections and his unobtrusive photographic technique also allowed him to take photographs that made visible the private and human aspects behind the facades of big events.
Salomon was born in 1886 into a wealthy Jewish family in Berlin society. He studied law, participated in the war and was imprisoned by the French for years. After the First World War, the family fortune was wiped out by inflation, which led him to set up an electric car and motorbike rental company. Because of his astute promotion of the company, he was noticed by the Ullstein publishing house, which gave him a job in the advertising department in 1925.
When he joined the publishing house at 39, he began to photograph for a higher salary. The technical advances of the time enabled him to take snapshots using high-speed cameras that most of his colleagues were not yet using. He hid his camera in a hat with a hole in it, wrapped a bandage around his arm or used a hollow book in order to get his candid shots – a technique for which he became known around the world.
Salomon devoted his last years to photojournalism, but was late in recognizing the true danger threatened by the Nazi dictatorship. He was killed in Auschwitz on July 7, 1944 along with his wife and youngest son, while his eldest son survived in exile in England, saving Salomon’s work from destruction.
In 1971, the German Photographic Society created the Dr. Erich Salomon Prize for photojournalism in his honor. His work exposes nuanced moments both depicting everyday life, while also revealing intimacy within some of history’s most prominent figures in the turbulent early 20th century.
For our series Colour Candid and the Street, IMAGO reminisces on Salomon’s candid archives and his contributions to photography.