Time Travel

Today I’m going to travel back and forth between time and places…we begin in Berlin in 1976, a trip to New Mexico midyear 1977, a brief time warp to Seattle in 2010, and finally back to the Berlin of 1977.

Once I made my decision that trying to shoot both color and black and white simultaneously from a single camera was not working out, and, as I was single at the time, I boarded a German bus for a trip to the AAFES photo shop at the Templehof airport. I went in empty handed with a full wallet and walked out with not one, but two cameras, a Nikon FM body, and a Mamiya Pentax RB67 (body and 90mm lens, and some filters), a Lunapro light meter, and a heavy duty Bogen tripod. Needless to say, while my load was figuratively lighter on the return trip to Andrews Barracks as my wallet was now empty, my goal of being able to shoot both color and black and white 35mm while out and about had been accomplished. When I went into the shop I had no inkling that I would walk out with the Mamiya setup. More on that in the next post.

Now laden with both bodies and associated paraphernalia (filters, additional lens, extra film, etc.), I began shooting all over West Berlin at various times, day or night. By now, I’d transitioned from developing black and white exposed film at the Andrews photo shop to taking care of this in the barracks area when I returned from the shoot. As I began to shoot more, I realized that film, developing, and print costs for negative film was very expensive so I switched to shooting slides and, once I had the right equipment and chemicals, began developing and mounting color slides myself. While I was able to cut costs by shooting slides, the down side was that it was very expensive to have slides “printed” (via cibachrome prints) compared to having prints from negative film. As a result I ended up shooting both negative and slide color films. Many of the negative prints are in the family photo albums while the vast majority of the slides are hidden away in slide holders in the closet. Amongst those hidden away slides are shots of two British Tattoos, a Neil Diamond concert at the Berlin Duetschlandhalle (which, to my surprise, was demolished on December 3, 2011), many, many shots of various sights in West Berlin, the Brandenburger Tor where you could watch the changing of the Soviet guards, all the images from the various museums we visited, and so much more.

In many ways, taking photos enabled me to see much more of Berlin than I would have anticipated. I was in my late 20s at the time and wandered just about anywhere I wanted to. On occasion, I would view some areas with doubt but, in the end, went there anyway. I was a curious sort at the time and began to visit museums. I happily discovered that taking photographs of the museum exhibitions was not banned; the only stipulation was that no flash or other lighting source could be used.

By now, I met Cynthia, also in the army and my future wife, and we wandered throughout Berlin taking photographs on many occasions. To my surprise, she offered to help carry the equipment when we were out shooting and I was grateful for the offer. We were married in a German civil ceremony on February 25, 1977 and soon moved to the 2nd floor apartment we leased on 7 Jahne Str., Zehlendorf, West Berlin.

Once we moved into the second floor apartment on 7 Jahn Strasse, the next task was to set everything up.. The apartment had a small kitchen, and some furniture, including a huge bed. Because we had married in Berlin we had no household items to speak of. However, one of the perks of being in the Big B was that the U.S. Army would issue you china, silverware, crystal, furniture and so forth for your use while in Berlin. This was part of the agreement by the West German government as part of the post war reparations. These household items were issued to married US personnel as it was too expensive to transport their household goods to Berlin. What you received depended a lot on rank and availability. So, we picked Rosenthal China, the silver pattern we liked, furniture, in short, everything needed to set up your apartment, had it delivered, and settled in for the remainder of our tour.

Once we were settled at 7 Jahn Str., we starting inviting friends from work over for some pretty spectacular dinners. Cynthia was an absolute master at preparing huge meals in the tiny kitchen and when served with the china and silver, was greeted with passion by the guests. Within a short while we went back to the US for our honeymoon. We traveled to Texas, Kansas, Colorado, and New Mexico to see family and friends. By this time I was pretty comfortable with the Mamiya and when we went back, I took along both Nikons, the Mamiya, tripod and other miscellaneous items. I took rolls and rolls of images, mostly on slides to keep the costs down but also a number of color negative rolls. While I had images from all along our trip, the shots we took at Carlsbad Caverns and the sunset that evening were the most interesting to me. I used the Mamiya primarily at Carlsbad to capture the evening sunset.

Although I had spent the last four years in New Mexico before I joined the Army in 1965, Carlsbad Caverns was one of the places I’ve always wanted to go to. I had a 1966 Corvette Stingray at the time so off we went to Carlsbad, New Mexico to visit the caverns. There were two entrances to the caverns: the main entrance where you went down in an elevator and the big cave entrance where the bats would fly out in early evening. We entered via the big cave entrance and wandered on a self guided tour for a couple of hours. The cave was lit by artificial light along the way and the photo opportunities were simply incredible. I plopped the F2S on the tripod and walked with the tripod slung over my shoulder.

While the walkways were lit, it was low level lighting and the only way to have any chance of a successful shot was on the tripod with long exposures. As I wanted to ensure the best chance of successful, focused shots, I used a small aperture, anywhere from f11 to f22 which made the exposures even longer. I had learned the hard way in Berlin when doing night photography that shooting at night was a whole different animal and you had to adjust your metering to all adjust for reciprocity failure to avoid underexposed shots. Under the reciprocity principal, you had the increase the amount of time for the exposure to make sure the shot worked. An example would be if the “normal” meter reading was 8 seconds (depending on the aperture / speed settings), you would increase to the exposure time to 30 or more seconds. This was fairly new to me so not only did I account for the reciprocity failure by increasing exposure time, I also shot each scene two more times with each extra shot adding a little extra time. It made a lot more sense to me to do this considering that I had only one chance for successful shots. And, it paid off.

Now to 2010…one of the scenes I photographed was The Big Room, a natural limestone chamber which is almost 4,000 feet long, 625 feet wide, and 255 feet high at the highest point. When I saw the chamber, I knew the only way to shoot this was to take a series of photographs from the bottom to the top. There was simply no other way with the lens I had. So, I began the process and I ended up taking four separate exposures. When we returned to Berlin I had the negs developed and the exposures worked but due to the individual variances in the lighting, the color balance of the prints weren’t quite the same and try as I could, I could never quite get them color corrected to the same color balance. My idea was that I could cut each print and line them up in a photo mosaic. It didn’t really work out so the negatives remained stashed way until 2010 when I was taking digital photography courses. I quickly realized I could scan each negative in, do the color correction, combine them into a single file and then print the final product. After a trail and error process in the prints, I made adjustments and after 34 years that print is now part of my portfolio.

The other negative that was put away until 2010 was the sunset that evening in 1976. The exposures were quite right and I was never happy with the prints. As with The Big Room negatives, I scanned the sunset picture in and worked with it over a few years until i was satisfied that the print “popped”…it is now ready for framing as a 12′” 36″ print.

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