Family memento – Poland – Memory: Pre-war Fotoamator
At the beginning of the third year of middle school, I “fell ill” with a real camera. I had Kodak Bebe for two or three years. Such a Bakelite box with a lens of “11” brightness, a fixed shutter (1/50 sec. I think), for folded films. With good lighting he even took quite good photos in the 4.5 × 6.0 cm format. Without the sun, indoors and under artificial light, it was practically useless. At the same time, its use was quite expensive. Films were expensive (then it was called “rolled film”). Prints of the so-called The contacts only required a special frame – costing pennies – and they could be made at home, but it did not give the best results, and moreover, they were small, with the same dimensions as the film: 4.5 × 6.0 cm. Enlargements were then expensive, and the possible purchase of an enlarger – it was already a serious investment.
Some of my photos taken with this camera were quite good and allowed to believe that I have a “knack” for photography. So I “fell ill” with a real camera. After seeing the displays of all the shops of the relevant industry in downtown Warsaw, consulting colleagues who had the same “disease”, or had access to a real camera from an older brother or father, I came to the conclusion that my ideal is the Kodak Retina 35mm camera.
After opening the cover, a leather bellows with a Tessar (Zeiss) lens with a brightness of 3.5 (the smaller the number, the “brighter” the lens) slipped out of its casing. It allowed to take pictures with lighting many times weaker than the old Bebe). Shutter speed from 1 to 1/300 sec. Well, in a word, a dream. It only had one drawback. It cost 198 zlotys. It was a staggering sum for me. It was impossible to dream about buying from savings from my weekly wage (I don’t remember exactly how much it was, but probably PLN 1.50 or PLN 2.00), even taking into account financial Christmas and name-day gifts from my father and my godfather, and sometimes from my uncle (if he has not forgotten). They were usually two or three silver five zlotys.
My father praised my interest in photography, but he firmly stated that he would not finance an expensive camera, because I am still too young for this type of equipment and he does not know if it is not just my enthusiasm and whether my interest in photography will last a few months. At the end of the serious conversation, he added with a joke: “If you care so much, earn money for this camera, for example – like me at your age – you can give private lessons”.
At first, I found the proposal frivolous. But after a few days, I came to the conclusion that I could tutor in mathematics and French. I never had any problems with mathematics, and the level of French in middle school was so low that despite my poor knowledge of grammar, I should be able to cope with it – I was speaking fluently; almost like in Polish.
I knew some of my classmates were tutoring. I learned from them that in this matter I should contact the tutor. He had to conclude that the candidate for a tutor is a disciplined, serious, good student and can tutor in selected subjects to students in lower grades.
So I applied to our tutor. I was a bit afraid of this conversation, because “Watermelon” (prof. Lewicki) taught us Latin, and it was not my favorite subject and I was certainly not a top student in it.
The Watermelon had no objection to mathematics and French. However, he was surprised that I even want to give tutoring. He knew that my father was a well-known doctor in Warsaw. However, he did not ask any indiscreet questions. He said he had to ask the mathematician and French teacher for their opinion. After a few days, I received permission to give tutoring.
At that time, there were no fixed rates for tutoring. Lower secondary school students usually received 50 groszy per hour. My first student was the aforementioned weakling in mathematics. He came to me referring to his and my tutor. We agreed that it has serious shortcomings, so we will meet immediately twice a week for an hour or an hour and a half, and then possibly less or less. I didn’t know how to talk to him about money, so we didn’t talk about it at all.
The first lesson was at his home (he lived near me). It started with a conversation with my parents. Relatively young, very nice, they treated me extremely seriously (I was 15 at the time). When they asked me how much they were supposed to pay me for the lessons, I confessed that Janek would be my first student and I didn’t know what to answer. I heard “well, I suggest 1 zloty per school hour”. It was a fantastic rate for a 3rd grade student, the more so as the tutoring hours were usually 60 minutes, not 45 as school hours. It was PLN 1.33. in a real hour. Even students rarely received more than PLN 1 back then. per hour.
Only after the war, when I was finishing my studies and earning money by tutoring (i.e. after about 10 years), I learned from my father that my tutor called him and asked if he knew that I wanted to give tutoring and if there was nothing against it . He also told him who the potential student was. My father had no objections, but he called Jurek’s father, explained why I wanted to give tutoring, and they agreed on the continuation of my career as a teacher.
I wonder what the current tutor of the 3rd grade of middle school would come up with such an idea as the good “Watermelon” and would the fathers of both parties have something to talk about now?
At the beginning of the 4th grade of middle school, I collected almost PLN 80 from a week’s wages, gifts and tutoring. I also had about 40 zlotys in prior savings. A lot together, but it is still a long way to Retina, and at the beginning of the school year there were no people willing to do tutoring yet.
Suddenly one evening my father asked me if I had stopped being interested in photography. “Of course not, but I can’t buy my dream camera, but I still miss a lot. I breached my savings before the holiday because I spent on a bicycle dynamo. It was an incredible opportunity: a Swedish dynamo mounted in the front wheel hub. like a drum brake. The most important thing is that it did not tear the tire (like all the others), it provided good light even when driving very slowly and increased the driving resistance to an undetectable degree.
One of the friends’ father worked in the sales department of the company that produced this miracle. Together with the lamp (with a road and city light!) It cost expensive, 22 zlotys, but as a promotion – only 12. It is still more than twice as expensive than a regular dynamo powered by a tire. But it was worth the bigger expense. I had them for nearly two years and I never had any trouble with it, nor practically any difference in the “legs” whether you rode with the lamp turned off or on, and it shone much better than ordinary bicycle lamps.
Previously, I had a carbide lamp on my bike; the usual dynamo was fine for the city, but not for further rides. The carbide lamp shone brilliantly; however, there was a lot of trouble with it when cleaning and “stuffing” with carbide. So I “had to” buy a great dynamo.
My father patiently listened to my enthusiastic opinion about the Swedish dynamo and, to my surprise, he took a 100 zloty note from his wallet and placed it on the table in front of me. “I can see that this unplanned but justified expense has damaged your savings and I have also found out that you really care about this camera – what is it called? – Retina prompted – aha Retina. Then you can buy it now. ”
A day or two later, after collecting all available information and mobilizing two colleagues, the best (according to my knowledge) experts in photography, we went to the Kodak representative office in Warsaw. It was located in the Prudential building (now Hotel Warszawa) on the ground floor on the side of Świętokrzyska Street. I had 210 zlotys in my wallet for a camera, a case and the first film.
The shop was modern and luxurious. Our group was approached by a relatively young salesman with a name tag on the lapel of his jacket. I remember my surprise, because I have never seen such a badge before and I have never met anyone with such an “exotic” name (unfortunately, today I do not remember what that name was).
“I wanted to buy a Retina camera; the one for 198 zlotys ”, I recited and took the company brochure out of my pocket.
“I’ll get it” – we heard and after a while on the counter there were two almost identical cameras. “This is the latest Retina model and costs the same as the previous one: PLN 198″, and the latter is the previous model, which we are now selling for PLN 98. ”
“What’s the difference between the two models?”
“In the new, the shutter button is on the body of the camera, and in the old one, next to the lens; the new one has a counter coupled with the film advance and a protection against taking two photos on one frame of the film, and in the old one you have to press the counter lever after each photo and only then you can rewind the film. The lens and shutter are identical. ”
The decision of the gathered experts was immediate: “You are taking an older model; these improvements are good for beginners and snobs. ” I left the store with my dream camera and 100 zlotys in my pocket.
As I found out later, the sale of the old model at a reduced price was introduced after the summer holidays. So if I had the required amount before the holidays, I would pay 100 zlotys more for the camera.
Until September 1939, I took a dozen or so films, i.e. about 500 photos: at home, at school, on vacation, on the street, household members, family, colleagues, friends. A lot was really very good.
During the occupation, I took about 2,000 photos. Most of them were documentary photos from Warsaw and the surrounding area. Buildings, “views” and street scenes; including street round-ups and the march through the city of German units in mid-June 1941. I did the latter at the behest of my underground superiors. As ordered, I returned the films that had not been developed; There could not be any of my “private” photos on the film. I was thanked and said “Most did well and some are interesting.”
It is worth mentioning here that during the occupation it was possible to officially buy films and photographic materials. The photo shops were under the discreet control of the Gestapo, which unfortunately found interesting photos and information from time to time.
For the needs of the army, the Germans produced films thinner than standard films, called “Mimoza”. I don’t remember if it was the name of the company or the type of movie. These films could be easily bought in most photo shops and… at the market. A typical 35mm camera cassette holds a standard film of 165 cm. Mimoz’s film went over two meters. Instead of the standard 36 frames, it was possible to take 48 to 53 photos (depending on the type of cassette).
Just before the Uprising, I made an entire film during a raid by Soviet bombers. The city was illuminated by many flares dropped during the raid. I photographed from a balcony overlooking the street. I also managed to develop the film and zoom in. Bright flares appeared on the background of the ruins of houses on the other side of Miodowa and the outlines of the ruins and houses in the background.
From all my retina output, only 5 photos that I had in my wallet when I left for the Uprising, and a few from my family and friends …
In the spring of 1939, I agreed with my classmate Janek Brumer that he had an old, large camera at home, which had not been used for many years. He brought it to school once to show it. “IInterested in you? I can borrow you, have fun, see if this is good for something. ”
It was a fantastic, in perfect condition, professional Voigtländer 9 × 12 cm camera, for glass plates, with a very good lens with a brightness of 5.6, a shutter from 1 second to 1/125, a self-timer, a double headlamp extractor (this allowed to take pictures even from a distance of 1 cm!) and a vertical shift of the headlamp (this allows for close-up photographs of, for example, a tall house so that it does not “collapse” in the picture.
The use of glass plates was very troublesome, but cut photographic films, the so-called “Filmpack”. You put the Filmpak into a slightly thicker cassette as for a glass plate, pulled out a strip of paper sticking out of the package, took a photo, took out a second strip, another photo, etc. I don’t remember how many sheets of film the Filmpack contained. I think 8 or 10, but I’m not sure. Before removing the cassette from the camera, it was necessary to slide off its cover (similar to a glass film).
I took the first photos in our apartment with natural lighting. I reduced the aperture of the lens and determined the exposure time with a light meter. It was over a second in the living room and a few seconds in a fairly dark dining room. Of course, I set the camera on a tripod.
The photos were fantastic (it’s true that photography generally “beautifies” the interior).
The blast stove, made of dark cherry tiles, with a fireplace, in the corner of the dining room, uninteresting in the everyday twilight, turned out wonderfully: decorative tiles are clearly visible, an old-fashioned clock on the shelf above the fireplace with columns and cupids hammering the anvil on its dial, perfectly visible photographs family, two double silver candlesticks on the sides.
In the living room photographed in several shots, old stylish furniture, a huge jitters and paintings hanging on both sides of it, on the opposite wall a large old mirror in a wide decorative frame, under it my favorite armchair next to a wall lamp converted from an oil lamp into an electric one, three windows covered curtains (knitted by my mother), two glass library cabinets between the windows. The titles and names of the authors are clearly visible on the spines of large books.
I brought these photos to school one day to show Jan what his camera can do. I didn’t want to show them to my friends before class, so as not to make an unnecessary crowd. I took them out during the first lesson and gave them to Jan, who was sitting behind me.
Before he realized what I meant, our Polish teacher became interested in my maneuvers. “Show me what you give Brumer there.” I had to show, in the end I have nothing to be ashamed of. Then there was a conversation that I remember perfectly well:
“Are these your photos?”
“Where did you make them?”
“So where do you live in the castle?”
“No, almost next door, on Miodowa Street at No. 9.”
“You don’t live on the street, but on the street. The photos are good, but the topic of the lesson is completely different. Put them in the briefcase. ”
Due to the dimensions and weight of the camera and tripod (which was practically impossible to live without), I took almost all photos with it at home. I photographed my mother (she did not like it very much, and it was difficult to take a picture with this big camera) and my father, my older sister Danusia during a visit to us, all the angles, I took pictures of the ruins of a burnt house (Miodowa 8) on the other side of the street, and the view along Miodowa Street towards Krakowskie Przedmieście and Krasiński Square. I had fun taking pictures using the double lift. I had some really fantastic pictures of a fly on a lace curtain and a spider on a spider web. The fly in the photo (12 × 18 cm) was much larger than it actually was.
In February 1940, after the death of my aunt Maria (mother’s sister), my uncle (Mieczysław von Arndt) asked me to take a photo of her in the coffin in the apartment. I took some photos, the entire filmpack as best I could. As my uncle wished, I handed him back the undesirable negatives. He wanted the photos only for himself. A few months later after my uncle died, I saw them. They were well exposed, sharp, but very bad.
For the second time away from home, my Voigtländer was used in 1943 to photograph old documents and pictures of some friends or distant relatives.
I cannot precisely determine how many photos I took in total with it. Certainly not less than 200 and probably not more than 300. In 6 years it doesn’t seem like much. However, you have to take into account that this camera was only suitable for photos of a special kind, these photos were quite expensive and incomparably more labor-intensive than those taken, for example, with Retina.
None of the photos taken with Voigtländer, unfortunately, survived neither in my wallet (they were too large to carry them in it) nor with my family and friends.
Both Voigtländer and Retina cameras, along with all my negatives and photos during the Warsaw Uprising, were destroyed along with the house we lived in.
Our crate in Anin, June 1944: From left to right:
NN, Maciej Bernhardt, Paweł Gąsowski, Janina (Lalka) Wilatowska, NN, NN, Andrzej Krupinski, Jaś Przyłuski. The seat is: Stanisław Witoszyński, Andrzej Przyłuski, Krysia Gąsowska.
My sister’s student crate in our living room. From left:
Ala Bartyzel, Wojtek Kochański and NN.