Buried Leica story

“Buried Leica story” by Stephen Dowling:

Earlier this year, I met up with my friend Darren for a day of photography in Brighton, a bustling seaside city on England’s south coast.

Over the phone a few days before, Darren had told me he would bring along a friend’s camera, something he’d been asked to test to see if it was still in working condition. He said I might find the camera’s history interesting.

The camera Darren had been asked to test was a Leica Standard, one of Leica’s most popular screw-mount rangefinders from the 1930s. It was the fourth version of the original 35mm Leica camera, and the first to have a standardised lens mount – before that, lenses had been calibrated for a particular body, so lenses that worked perfectly on one Leica body might not focus properly on another. Put into mass production in the late 1920s, they were produced for some 20 years. 

The Standard belonged to Darren’s friend Gunther; it was a family heirloom, though one with something of a chilling past. The camera had belonged to his mother’s father, who was a soldier in the German SS in World War II. Gunther’s grandfather had bought it in the 1930s and the camera had documented family life and holidays abroad before the war started. During the war, his grandfather had taken it with him on active service.

In 1941, while on leave, his grandfather had left the camera with his grandmother back in Germany before traveling to his unit on the Russian front. She never saw him again.

In 1945, with Germany defeated and his grandmother fearful that the camera might be taken by Allied troops as war booty, she buried it in a nearby field, along with photos and its accessories. 

This is a camera that comes with some dark history – the fact Gunther’s grandfather was a member of the SS should certainly not be ignored. The pictures taken on the camera, both before and during the war, create a particularly sobering time capsule (you can read the full article and see the pictures here).

Gunther is having the camera repaired, and will learn how to use it – the Leica Standard, with it’s periscope accessory rangefinder and other foibles, isn’t exactly a point and shoot. Decades after it was packed away in a cupboard, it will take pictures again.

Photo credit: Darren Russell.

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