Eliot Elisofon New Arrivals


A founding member of the Photo League and a staff photographer for Life magazine from 1940 to 1964, Eliot Elisofon was born in New York City in 1911 and first became interested in photography and painting when he was a teenager. He later began producing photographs for advertisements and then received assignments for Vogue and Mademoiselle magazines. By 1937 he was contributing work to Life magazine on a regular basis, including work from his time in 1942 in Tunisia with General George S. Patton who simply called him “Hellzapoppin.” He was also an African art aficionado having made numerous collecting and photography trips to the continent and he was a watercolorist, meaning his interests often lead to arts and culture assignments. In 1952 Elisofon was assigned to be photographer for a ten-page article in Life magazine entitled, “Dada’s Daddy” about the artist Marcel Duchamp. A key member of the Dada movement, Duchamp was regarded as "an oracle of the avant-garde" having created such seminal artwork as “Fountain” made from a urinal. Another of Duchamp's most significant works is his early painting of 1912 entitled, “Nude Descending a Staircase No. 2.” In the painting he fuses the fragmented concept of Cubism with the repetitive images and energy of chronophotography, particularly found in the work of early photographer Eadweard Muybridge. Duchamp was trying to show a figure moving through time within the medium of a still painting.

Elisofon brilliantly paid tribute to “Nude Descending a Staircase No. 2” through photography’s ability to stop motion. In his time-lapse photograph of a ghostly Duchamp walking down a flight of stairs, Elisofon finds a photographic equivalent to Duchamp’s ability to freeze time and space in his unique and creative collaging of images. Elisofon captured the artist’s movements on a single frame of film by leaving the shutter of his lens open while he set off multiple flashes, each burst of light capturing one position of the body as it moved down the stairs. The photograph is a repetitive flash-picture and the careful manipulation of light makes the photograph as Dadaist as the then 40-year-old painting. While they were setting up the shot, Duchamp apparently asked Elisofon, "Don't you want me to do it nude?" A unique portrait of the pioneering twentieth century artist, while also a brilliant homage to a seminal work of art, “Marcel Duchamp Descends Staircase” cleverly and beautifully captures Duchamp in Elisofon’s ethereal vision.

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