Erich Salomon was a celebrity photographer and also portrayed himself as such. He worked with guile and a hidden camera to capture, as the title of his book put it, “Famous Contemporaries at Unguarded Moments”. His methods anticipated those used by today’s paparazzi, but his images do not speak the sensationalist language of revelation. They show the ways of the political and social elite of his time, well before the advent of media advisors, and they show the daily business of politics rather than its staged management. Erich Salomon was himself a gentleman who photographed other gentlemen. As a photojournalist, he investigated the hitherto unknown world of parliamentary business for newspaper readers. His fame gave him access to the highest echelons of power – and the living rooms of film and music stars as well as celebrities from the world of literature and art. The menacing presence of the Nazis in parliament in Berlin from 30 October 1930 spelled the end of this culture, which was also reflected in Erich Salomon’s photographic vision. In 1932 he produced his only socio-political reportage, entitled “The Prisoners of the World Crisis”. It is like a grim foreboding of things to come.
Many photographs by Barbara Klemm are now etched in the collective visual memory of the Germans, but we are not always aware that these pictures were first made as photojournalism. Like Salomon, Barbara Klemm does not stage her photos in any way, although she does not go so far as to use a hidden camera. Her pictures are based on her precise knowledge of her subject, which she condenses into a universally valid message. During her work as a photojournalist, Barbara Klemm’s unobtrusive presence has made it possible for the people she is interested in to carry on what they are doing without being distracted. Her use of compact, lightweight photographic equipment has helped her to keep her professional interests low-key, making it easier for her to get access to important events and unusual situations. She often stands at the sidelines, electing to press the shutter shortly before or after proceedings reach their climax. In this way Klemm frequently manages to circumvent political stage management and come up with subtle and profound pictures. Her photographs are a world apart from what we imagine when we hear the word snapshot, and Barbara Klemm avoids any kind of effects. The perfection of her compositions only becomes apparent on second glance.
Both Barbara Klemm and Erich Salomon have seen themselves as journalists rather than artists. The fact that they are now both regarded as artists stems from the logic of their pictures. Their photos are not just significant thanks to their news value, but also because their complex composition sheds light on the political, social and psychological background to the events depicted. The personal viewpoint of both photographers always remains clear. The Leap in Time exhibition presents photographs by Erich Salomon and Barbara Klemm that are outstanding examples of German press photography. In their role as photojournalists, both of them produced unique documents of their time, and, as artists, they created pictures of exceptional intensity.