As a child my son’s passions were art, architecture and soccer, photography was his Dad’s domain. It wasn’t until I taught a pinhole workshop at his school that he made his first photograph. Later, I gave him a 35mm point and shoot which he personalized by covering it with bug stickers. I loaded it with a 36 exposure roll of film and not fifteen minutes later he was back for another roll. That little camera is still tucked away in a drawer in the kitchen.
I began experimenting with digital photography using a Nikon Coolpix. I later purchased a Canon D30 and gave the Coolpix to Wynn to preserve my film stash.
My strategy worked for a while. He’d shoot as much as he wanted then download the photos onto his Mac G3. Then one day I asked him if he needed fresh batteries because I knew the Coolpix was a power hog. He dug through his backpack but couldn’t find the camera. “ I must have left it at school,” he said.
A week later he came home and pulled the camera from his backpack. He told me he had it with him when he and his friends where hiking in the woods and that a girl had tripped and injured her knee. In typical Miquon School fashion everyone dropped everything and rushed thegirl to the office for first aid. The Coolpix had spent the week outside, along a trail in the woods, in the rain. I did appreciate his honesty.
The Coolpix survived a week in the elements, what did it in was a broken battery door from the toss of his backpack onto the sidewalk.
Later, Wynn got an iPhone and of course, aside from the ability to text and make phone calls, it had a built in camera. For several years the iPhone was all the camera he needed. With each new iPhone version the cameras got better and better as did the photography related apps.
When Wynn went off to college I gave him my old Canon 20D. Not wanting to give up any of my L series lenses I bought him a used 35-80 kit lens. Coming from an iPhone he found the 20D’s settings and menus confusing. The LCD was too small and the kit lens was too slow. The iPhone remained his camera of choice.
For the past couple of years I have been collecting film cameras. Some, people have given to me, others I find in thrift stores, flea markets and yard sales. I still carry a torch for film, especially black and white. I shoot with these cameras occasionally and still maintain a darkroom. You can see some of my recentb&w work “Thanksgiving Day Parade” in a previous post.
Wynn mentioned he had friends at RISD that had done film photography when they where in high school and that they would like to try it again. I sent Ryan a Pentax ME and an Olympus OM-2 to Skye for their birthdays.
This got Wynn to thinking maybe he’d like a film camera too and that maybe he’d like to have it for his trip to Paris over spring break. I thought it a bit risky, taking a used camera you have never used before on such an important trip. Then I decided, what the hell, he would be taking photos with his iPhone too.
While I had multiple cameras I could have given him all were 60’s or 70’s era manual cameras in need of some amount of restoration and I wanted to give him a camera with at least one auto exposure mode for insurance.
Detail, Eiffel Tower, Paris
Luckily, a few days before Wynn would leave on his trip, I found a Canon AE-1 program at the local thrift shop. It was in great shape and came with a fungus free, 50mm 1.8 lens. It even came with an owner’s manual. When I got it home I installed a new battery and everything worked perfectly. The program mode was a big plus, I would rather he concentrated on content, light and composition than on technical issues.
I shipped the camera along with five rolls of 36 exposure Tri-X which he could send back to me for processing, printing and scanning when he returned. For inspiration I sent him a link to photos of Paris by Andre Kertesz. I told him to not come back with ANY unexposed film.
It wasn’t until the day of his flight that i realized we had never had a discussion about flying with film and x-rays! I texted him while he was on the train to the airport and he texted back that the film was in his suitcase and that it would be checked. I told him that was the worst pace for it as the x-rays for check bags is much stronger and would surely fog the film. He removed it from his suitcase and at the airport he asked for hand inspection.
Here’s what Wynn had to say: Having the AE-1 Program in Paris was a blast, it really gave me the motivation I needed to go into full tourist mode. The AE-1 ended up giving me exactly what I needed, a camera that was super easy to operate, light and durable, and yielded exactly the kinds of photos I was looking for – images that look like they could be prints from IKEA. I’m excited to continue to use my new film camera but am hesitant to take it out without a special occasion. If you would like to send me a roll of film my address is 02 College Street, Box No. 0617 Providence RI, 02903
Framed in a rusty, steel shadowbox are the black and white portraits of people who lost their lives attempting to cross the wall from East to West Germany. Their names, birth and death dates are indelibly etched into the steel beneath each recessed compartment. The portraits are covered in glass in which you can view your own reflection, as if to ask us to put ourselves in their place. Roses had been placed above each name in a gesture of remembrance. Some compartments had only names and dates while others were covered with metal plates as it is inevitable more victims will be added as their stories are discovered. While 130 victims are present on the wall I moved in close to better capture each likeness.
This photo was one of my entries to the 2015 ASMPhilly Focus book. This year’s theme was “Faces.” When I made the image I couldn’t help but wonder who these people were and after learning it would be published, I felt obligated to do some research. Here are some of their stories. Keep them in mind whenever you hear politicians talk about building Walls.
Heinz Jercha, Had fled East Germany before the Wall was built. A butcher by trade, he lived in West Berlin with his wife and daughter. Jercha joined a group who helped people to escape after the Wall had been built.He assisted in the digging of a tunnel and then in escorting dozens of escapees to the West. On March 27th, 1962, after successfully leading an elderly couple through the tunnel Jercha returned to assist a young college student, the friend of two students he had assisted earlier. This time when Jercha exited the passageway Stasi agents were waiting for him and ordered him to surrender, but Jercha turned and ran. The commandos opened fire and Jercha was struck in the chest by a ricochet bullet but managed to crawl back through the tunnel. Despite evading capture, he died from his wound a short time later. His last words were “Those swine shot me.” Documents released by the Stasi after reunification revealed that a friend of the assistance group had been an informant.
–> Seventeen year old, Axel HannemannJumped from a bridge onto a barge that had cleared customs control and was heading for the West.The ship captain had seen him jump and refused to take Hannemann with him, instead he stopped the ship and notified the border guards. Hannemann jumped into the Spree River and attempted to swim to the West Berlin riverbank. Two border guards opened fire and just a few meters from his goal Hanneman sustained a fatal shot to the head. In a note left for his parents and siblings he wrote, “I have no other choice. I’ll explain my reasons to you when I have made it. but for now I can say that I have done nothing wrong.”
–> Born in the Soviet sector Siegfried Noffke had moved to West Berlin before the border was closed. His girlfriend Hannelore, lived on the Eastern side of the border. Hannelore became pregnant and Noffke returned to marry her after their son was born. It is likely they assumed Hannelore and the baby would be permitted to move to the Western side of the city after the wedding but East Berlin authorities refused to grant them exit permits. When the border was suddenly closed they found themselves, separated. Over the next year they could only occasionally see and speak to each other at the newly erected wall. Siegfried and Hannelore were one of many couples that had been separated. Siegfried met another West Berliner who was in the same situation and told him of a tunnel escape project and invited him to join so they could both get their wives and children to the West.Not aware that her brother was a Stasi informant one of the women planning to escape told him of the tunnel project. Her brother was even present when the tunnel was opened, helping to break through a basement wall. When Noffeke and the others emerged from the tunnel the Stasi were waiting for them. Despite the fact that the Stasi only intended to arrest the tunnel builders one of Stasi men became rattled and began shooting. Noffke and another man where hit. Despite being shot Noffke was interrogated on the spot so as to squeeze a confession from him. Noffke died on the way to the hospital. He was 22 years old. His wife Hannelore and other East Berliners who were planning to escape were arrested and received sentences anywhere from one to nine years in prison.
The Man in the Cap
Separated from relatives in the West, Ernst Mundt had ridden his bicycle from his apartment to the Sophien cemetery which was situated on the border. When his path was blocked by barbwire he abandoned his bicycle and climbed on top of the cemetery wall despite the fact that it was covered in shards of glass. As he walked the length of the wall toward the border, guards ordered him to get down. Mundt relpied, “I won’t get down, I am on duty. “A warning shot was fired but Mundt continued toward the border. A second shot struck Mundt. His body fell between the gravestones in the cemetery but his cap landed on the West side of the wall. The guard that fired the shots was awarded a medal and the border guards were commended for removing Mundt’s body before Press from the West could arrive. Thirty years later when facing charges, the guard claimed he was only following orders.
Otfried Reck, known as Otti to to his friends, served a sixteen month sentence in a youth prison for being part of a group protesting the border fortifications. Three months after his release he and a childhood friend Gerd, followed underground railroad tracks, known as the “cellar line,” to a ventilation shaft where they hoped to climb up, pry loose a metal grate and jump a train to the West. A border guard heard them trying to remove the grate and reported it to his superiors and a search party was sent out. For whatever reason Otfried and Gerd abandon their escape attempt but were pursued as the fled. They ran to a nearby skating rink that was a popular hang-out for the local youth. A border guard fired at them striking Reck in the back. He died three hours later in the hospital. He was 17 years old. He wanted to be an opera singer.
Philipp Held, a nineteen year old electrician and engineering student, lived with mother in West Berlin. Philipp’s mother did not approve of his girlfriend and tensions rose between them. Philipp and his girlfriend, Barbel, drove to the town of Helmstedt in East Berlin, where Barbel had grown up before fleeing with her mother to the West and where her father still lived. When they reached the border they announced their desire to resettle in the East and were registered as a “new arrival” and a “repatriate.” Both Philipp and Barbel had a hard time adjusting to life in East Berlin and the reception from Barbel’s relatives was not as warm as they had hoped. After a short time they decided to return to the West. As she was still a a minor, Barbel applied for an exit visa to return to her family but Phillip, who had vocational training, was of full age and had willingly left the capitalist West, it was unlikely he would be granted an exit visa. At the same time East Germany instituted a draft. It was likely he would be conscripted to serve in the National People’s Army after which there would be no hope of returning to the West. Philipp decided to escape. Only Barbel and Philipp’s landlord new his intentions. When a few days passed and the they had not heard from him they assumed his attempt had been successful. Held’s body was found floating in the Spree River several days later. According to East Berlin police no bullet wounds were found and it was assumed he had drowned.
Nineteen year old Horst Frank, a gardener by trade, and a childhood friend, Detlev waited for the cover of darkness to attempt their escape. Equipped with wire cutters they cut through the interior wall and entered into the eighty meter wide border strip. Rather than running as quickly as possible they crawled on the ground slowly to avoid being noticed by border guards. Their cautious approach allowed them to successfully avoid a trip wire that would have sounded an alarm. Four hours later, Detlev had reached the last fence when he heard shots. looking back he could see that Frank had become entangled in barbed wire. Detlev made it safely through the fence and onto the Western side of the border but Frank had been hit by three gunshots and died a few hours after being pulled from the barbed wire. Detlev later stated his reason for escaping was to meet his biological Father who lived in the West. It is thought Frank’s reason for the attempted escape was to avoid being conscripted into the National People’s Army. His Military Summons was one of the few things he had on him when he died.
On July 11th, 1962, a fisherman noticed the body of a woman floating in the Havel River and notified the police. She was identified as 53 year old Erna Kelm by her East German identification card hidden in her sock. Because Kelm was wearing a life jacket under her clothes authorities came to the conclusion she had drowned trying to escape by swimming across the border which ran through the middle of the river. Kelm had lived in the West before the Wall was built working as a nurse’s aid in a children’s home for refugees. She he later moved back to the East German town of Sacrow because she missed her children. Kelm was one of eight women who died trying to escape to the West.
Eighteen year old Peter Fechter a bricklayer by trade, became friends with Helmut Kulbeik. also Eighteen who worked for the same company. Both teens had been thinking about fleeing for a long time but neither had devised an escape plan. One day while wandering about they noticed a old building that had once been a woodworking shop, it’s back windows extended almost to the Wall. On August 17th, 1962 while on a lunch break they decided not to return to the job site but to investigate the building instead. They removed their shoes so as not make any noise and made their way to the back of the building where they found a storage room window that had not been bricked shut. When the boys heard voices they were afraid they had been discovered and both jumped out of the open window and ran in their socks to the Wall which was only a few meters away. When the first shots were fired Helmut jumped to the top of the wall and forced himself through the barbed wire but Fechter was struck in the hip as he climbed. He fell backwards and began leaning on a Wall support. Despite the fact that Fechter had given up, rather than arresting him, the guards continued to fire until he collapsed to the ground. Fechter began screaming for help but East German guards ducked as by now West German guards were pointing their guns at them. West German guards threw him bandages but were afraid to climb over the wall fearing they would be shot at too. The arrival of the West German police, photographers and film crews made the East German guards even more apprehensive to retrieve the injured fugitive. After fifty minutes Fechter’s screaming stopped. Film footage and still photos of Fechter dying were broadcast around the world and became a symbol of the inhumanity of the East German border regime.
–> 19 year old Hans-Dieter Wesa and 18 year old Adolf B. served together as transport police
officers in Leipzig before being transferred to Berlin to serve as border guards. Both were
assigned to a “Ghost Station,” a Bahn station where trains passed but did not stop. As they were already acquainted conversation came easily and Adolf thought Hans was joking when he said his sister (who lived in the West) would be surprised when he showed up. Adolf considered Hans to be a reliable comrade but became suspicious after Hans left to turn on lights on the other side of the track and disappeared.Adolf went looking for him and saw Wesa had just climbed over the border fence and was on the Western side. After Wesa ignored his comrade’s order to come back Adolf fired at Wesa six times. Wesa was struck in the thigh and fell to the ground. Adolf ran up to the fence and fired another six shots killing Wesa. In 1990 charges where brought against Adolf but before he could be tried he took his own life.