from the Time-Life Photographic Archive; reproduced in Life magazine (28 April 1952)
Born in New York City in 1911, Eliot Elisofon (Meyer Eliot Elicofon) was the son of immigrants. He first became interested in photography and painting when he was a teenager. After first producing photos for advertisements, he received assignments for Vogue and Mademoiselle magazines and by 1937, he was contributing work to Life magazine on a regular basis, covering a variety of subjects, from military exercises to coal miners, theatrical circles, and high society. In 1942 he was a war correspondent and photographer for Life (he was nicknamed "Hellzapoppin'" by General Patton) and was associated with this publication and many others until 1972. During his photographic journeys around the African continent, he assembled a collection of African art, and became a well-known authority on this subject. This particular photograph was done for a ten-page article, "Dada's Daddy," by Winthrop Sargeant about the artist Marcel Duchamp for an issue of Life magazine (28 April 1952). Marcel Duchamp, a key member of the Dada movement, was regarded as "an oracle of the avant-garde." He is known for his playful attitude towards making art, and especially for celebrating the commonplace by using ready-made objects (such as the 1917 work, Fountain, made from a urinal) in his art. One of Duchamp's most significant works is his early painting of 1912 entitled Nude Descending a Staircase, in which he fuses the fragmented concept of cubism with the repetitive images/energy of chronophotography, particularly the work of Eadweard Muybridge. It was to this painting that Elisofon paid tribute in his 1952 time-lapse photograph of Marcel Duchamp descending a flight of stairs. This photo was one of two staged shots that Elisofon produced in this sitting. While they were setting up the shot, Duchamp apparently said to the photographer, "Don't you want me to do it nude?" (Calvin Tomkins, Duchamp: A Biography, New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1996, 379).
This photograph was recently a subject of research and conservation conducted by Allison Pappas, the Lenett Fellow in the Williams College Graduate Program in the History of Art. Pappas examined the physical evidence, including deliberate markings and unintentional damages, on the front and back of this photograph to trace its history fromits original intended function as a working print for publication to its presentation in the Mead Art Museum.
Elisofon photographed for Life magazine, the self-proclaimed first picture magazine in the United States. A detail of Marcel Duchamp descends staircase—which a member of the Life staff clearly outlined on the back of the photograph—appeared in an article on Duchamp titled “Dada’s Daddy” in the April 28, 1952, issue.