“Ferry view of Ellis Island,
New York”

Erich Salomon (1886 – 1944)

Photograph by Erich Salomon, silver gelatin paper, 16,3 x 24,2 cm
© Urheberrechte am Werk erloschen

The top two thirds of this black-and-white photograph show a cloudless sky. In the bottom third, four men in hats face the other way. Our gaze is drawn between them to a large building with historicist towers across the water on Ellis Island.

The men stare across the waters of the Hudson River towards Ellis Island. They are ferry passengers, but we cannot see their ship. The framing with its low horizon cunningly steers our attention to the main building on the island. It looms in the gap between travellers, all of whom are seen from behind. With its nostalgic towers the structure might equally be some classy hotel. In fact, Ellis Island was a kind of quarantine post – a place where immigrants waited for the vital news: could they stay in the United States – or not?

This picture is from a piece of reportage by Erich Salomon (1886–1944) printed in the “Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung” in 1932 under the heading “Prisoners of the world crisis:  among unwanted immigrants and deportees on Ellis Island in New York Harbour”.

Salomon had made his name with quite different topics. In the Weimar years he ranked as the photographer of politicians and high society, and he managed again and again to capture well-known figures in unguarded moments. The photographs he took in America were different: they depict the lives of ordinary people in a sober idiom that adds a new, documentary quality to his work.

Crossing to Ellis Island, New York
Gelatin silver print
16,3 x 24,2 cm
Purchased by Land Berlin with funds from Bundesministerium des Innern, Bonn 1980

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