To You I Follow
Zurich, Friday, September 4th, 2015
The 4th of September was to be the most interesting or most exciting of all the days in following this couple on their journey though central Europe. It would involve traveling through three countries in a single day in the search to photograph six sites, three them located in Switzerland, two in Austria and the final image in Germany. Today’s route focuses touring around the shores of Lake Constance in which these three countries borders converge or meet. Half of the images taken on this date are of various borders crossing the couple crossed going from Switzerland to Austria to Germany and finally back into Switzerland at the town of Konstanz. From starring at the image time and again it’s likely it was a bus tour in which the couple had traveled on this day, which takes up two pages of the album. Written on the top of both pages is “The Three Countries Tour” and certainly in the outer reaches of the frame in one of the images seem to be taken from the window of a coach. Assuming from this it was an organised day trip for tourist to visit these three countries in a day would certainly have been a novelty back then as apposed to now.
My journey would begin early in Zurich to photograph along the River Limmat near the Central Station. It goes without saying there has been a dramatic change in comparing scene taken in 1935 and eighty years later with the question being, ‘Where did the river go? In the subsequent years since the original image was taken in 1935 it seemed has vanished without a trace. The truth of the matter is that indeed once a river existed here before being replaced by an underpass. What isn’t visible in the frame of the image is not the entire river but a narrow tributary of the main river that flows though the city. The riverbank visible on the right hand side of the photograph is fact an island. On the other side of the island then, outside what is captured in the frame of the camera, a wider channel of the river exists. I had encountered the problem before in 2010 where at the time the scene I was looking at in person didn’t resemble what was recorded in the image. Fortunately I was able to thumb through historical books of Zurich and I was lucky to find an aerial photograph of the city in the 1930s where indeed an island existed in the middle of the river near to the train station. Returning to photograph the scene a second time the only reason way I knew I was in the right spot is the how the central station appeared in the frame of the camera as it did in the original photograph. The angle on the left hand side of the frame of the camera was accurate as the apposing buildings surrounding the station sat correctly as it did as the image album. So realistically I had to be standing with the camera relatively close or at precise spot the camera was positioned in 1935.
Back in the car I would head east in the direction of St Gallen to a small sleepy town just south of it called Lichtensteig. The second image I had to record was of the main junction located in the centre of the town. It was relatively easy to line up the scene in the frame of the camera on the tripod to mimic closely what exists in the album. Though what is captured on this date eighty years ago is a little boy playing with his dog in the main street where at that moment the town seemed devoid of any life at all. I waited though for a few extra minutes to see if anything interesting could be captured in the frame to perhaps added or compliment the original scene in the album. Eventually what I get is a man crossing the street while walking his dog on a lead is as close I can get to the original scene of a young boy and his dog.
Lichtensteig, Wednesday, September 4th, 1935
Lichtensteig, Friday, September 4th, 2015
It was approaching ten in the morning and I had to be at the Swiss-Austrian border for eleven o’clock to meet with the border officials on the Austrian side. Given the possible sensitivity that may arise when photographing an international border I contacted each of the border agencies from each of the three countries in the days leading up to this day. Basically to inform them about my intentions to photographing each border as part of the series and to ask for their permission to do so to avoid any issues. Arriving at the Austrian border I parked in a nearby car park, gathered my camera equipment to walk back to the border crossing. Waiting outside the offices were two border officials and when they saw me with tripod in hand they beckoning me to come over to them. “Are you the photographer?” they asked, “Yes”, “come with us”. I followed behind them through the door were I am met by four officers in various types of uniforms from the traditional ceremonial gowns to the modern present day uniforms. I was taken aback by how much effort they were willing to help me to document the specific scene in the album. For in the original image in 1935 was of the Austrian border office as it was then where in the foreground of the in front of the building is a border officer in full uniform. I can’t tell if the person back then is either walking in a somewhat nonchalant manner or he is admiring is brightly polished boots. I visited the border before in 2010 to photograph the scene as to replicate 75 since the original image. The border officer on duty at the time offered to stand, as his predecessor would have which I wasn’t expecting or even had envisaged such situation to happening. All my intentions were to record the scene with the border office as it was but to my surprise when he offer then stand in as he I know it made perfect sense and transformed the image.
The Frontier, St. Margarenthen, Austria, Wednesday, September, 4th, 1935
The Frontier, St. Margarenthen, Austria, Saturrday, September, 4th, 2010
Fast forward to where we are in 2015 and the same situation is about to unfold again. As like what transpired in 2010 I wanted to photograph the scene as closely what is represented in the image the couple photographed in 1935. In doing so I wanted the church steeple to be visible in the background and to have an officer stand in front of the current border office and copy the same stance as person in the original image. Out of the assortment of uniforms that was on offer I wanted what was the current uniform in comparing the scenes of now and then. I then handed the person who would eventually pose for the camera a copy of the original image as to get an idea how he was to stand for the photograph. Both his colleagues and myself looked on in amusement as he began preparing himself mimic the stance of his predecessor and once he was ready we made our way outside. The border crossing at the time was quite busy with various vehicles passing through. The person posing needed to be standing in the middle of the road so as to get the all the elements present in frame including the border office and the church steeple in the background. The Austrians kindly obliged to facilitate, because they can, to stop the traffic effectively coming over the border for five-minute intervals as so I could get the image. Going back inside to check the group of images I had taken on the back the screen of the camera I felt we could get a few more and once again the Austrian very obliging closed the border for another five minutes. Eventually satisfied with what I shot they invited me to the staff room for a cup coffee.
The Frontier, St. Margarenthen, Austria, Friday, September, 4th, 2015
We chatted about the project for about a half an hour plus they showed me images from their archives of the various border offices that stood here over the years here. Even with their kind hospitality I had to get back on the road for there was still the matter in getting the final three images before the day was out. I thanked all the officers involved for helping me and continued on my way to the next site of the Austrian-German border in the town Leiblach only a twenty-minute drive away.
“Looking into Germany”, Austria, Wednesday, September 4th, 1935
“Looking into Germany”, Austria, Friday, September 4th, 2015
This border is unmanned due to both countries being part of the EU but when you include the context when the scene was taken in 1935 I am struck with a sobering thought. In the original image if you don’t read the title you would describe the scene in the photograph to be quite ordinary. The image of this bridge could have been taken anywhere but when you include the title of what the image says, “Looking into Germany” and the date when it was taken the tone of the image changes in my mind. What seems like an innocent image turns into something more sinister for being 1935 what is being represented is effectively the gateway what was then Nazi Germany. From this image it hard not think of the impeding doom that is about to befall Europe in a few years time. Now though the scene doesn’t have the same ominous connotations as before and the title now merely explanation the significance of the scene to the viewer today.
I continue on into Germany and to the town of Friedrichshafen to photograph what was then the infamous Zeppelin Factory that designed and built the iconic airships of that era. The photograph was of the entrance to the factory were in the foreground railway tracks lead its way right up to the factory gates. In the distance behind the gate entrance are the gigantic hangers where the Zeppelin airships where once constructed such as the icon Graf Zeppelin or the ill-fated Hindenburg. All has changed completely in the period of eighty years since. With the destruction and rebuilding of the factory after the war but also more recently with the nature of industry is constantly going through a period of change and expansion as it evolve. This inevitably would pose a problem when it came to identify the location of where the original image may have been photographed in the album.
The last time I was here I had help from the companies historian due to the vast size of the complex it would be impossible to identify where originally the particular entrance may have been. At the time we were able to narrow it down to two likely locations where the original image might have been taken. As with the last time I was here I photographed the same two locations safe in knowing that I had the right location.
Entrance to the Zeppelin Works, Wednesday, September 4th, 1935
Entrance to the Zeppelin Works, Friday, September 4th, 2015
What remained left to shoot was the final image at the town of Konstanz, which meant continuing on along upwards along the shoreline of Lake Constance to then catch a ferry. The ferry across the lake was only a short journey and once ashore on the other side I drove to the final border that I had to photograph. Getting the photograph at this border was initially supposed to be straight forward as the others but unfortunately it wasn’t to be the case. The image I needed to get was located on the Swiss side of the border and officer on passport duty was denying me permission when I arrived to photograph the scene. It was high frustrating when all the effort to inform them that I was coming, to photograph this scene and also visiting the location few days earlier to make myself known to them. The only way I was going to get the final image was to go inside to find one of his superior where I hoped I would be able to persuade for permission to photographing the border. At first he was a little reluctant to allow me to photograph the border but I stressing the fact that the image had to be taken on this particular day where he eventually agreed. Relieved I was able to get the image though I didn’t want to hang around long to ponder how to replicating the scene I set the camera up quickly, took the picture and was on my way.
With the sixth and final image recorded I would then have to make the long drive to the Brunig Pass in what will be the penultimate day of recording the couples journey around Central Europe.
The Frontier in the streets of Konstanz (Swiss-German Border), Wednesday, September 4th, 1935
The Frontier in the streets of Konstanz (Swiss-German Border), Friday, September 4th, 2015
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